Now that summer’s around the corner, we answer your burning questions: Can your child get a sunburn in the car?
In dealing with my recent skin damage due to years of sun exposure during my childhood, I began to worry about my children’s fair skin. I am pretty good about covering them up during swim and outdoor play time, but admit that I did not stop to lather them up with sunscreen for every car ride around town. I have noticed that sometimes the sun shines directly on them, so I wanted to know if they could get a sunburn while sitting in the car.
The short answer is that although your children may not get a sunburn in the car, their skin can still be damaged through the car windows (and through any clear glass for that matter). Let’s take a closer look at the science.
Types of UV
There are three types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun:
- UVC is filtered out by the ozone layer and doesn’t reach the earth’s surface, so we don’t have to worry about it.
- UVB causes sunburn and plays a major role in skin cancer and skin aging. Fortunately, UVB rays are unable to get through most types of glass. So, we are protected by UVB while driving in a car, unless of course your windows are down.
- UVA is what we need to worry about. It can penetrate through glass, and the skin damage isn’t as obvious. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA rays accounts for up to 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface and are 30 to 50 times more common. In addition, UVA affects the skin more deeply than UVB. Research over the past couple of decades shows that UVA can damage skin cells in the basal layer of the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin) where most skin cancers are found. The foundation clearly states that “UVA contributes to and may even initiate the development of skin cancers.”
Glass Type Matters
The type of glass and the coating on it will affect the amount of UVA that passes though. The three types of glass include ordinary (clear), reflective (can see in one direction better than the other), and tinted. Clear glass allows up to 75 percent of UVA to pass through, while tinted and reflective glass allow 25 to 50 percent to pass through.
Most cars today have windshields made of laminated glass that blocks all of UVB and the most of UVA. However, the side and rear windows are usually made from non-laminated glass and let more UVA through. Tinting reduces UVA penetration to about 15 to 30 percent.
Drive with Caution
Keep in mind that factors out of your control, like the time of day/year, whether you are driving into the sun, and how close you are sitting to a window can affect skin damage. Drive with caution and make sure your child is covered up with sunscreen, protective clothing, sunglasses, and a hat. Window shades can also be helpful. For more information, visit the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Sun Safety For Drivers page.
Sandi Schwartz is a freelance writer, editor, and researcher specializing in parenting, wellness, environmental issues, and human behavior. She enjoys analyzing everyday life using science, humor, and a passion to improve the world. Her blog Happy Science Mom (www.happysciencemom.com)