David B. Reath, MD
Knoxville, TN (865) 450-9253
HKB Knoxville Staff

Surprising Sunscreen Fact: Apply Before You Fly

May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. With the upcoming holiday weekend, it’s a good time to reflect on the importance of protecting your skin from the sun in situations you may not have considered.

There are certainly times where your exposure to the sun is greater than in others. Some of these you are already aware of like traveling to the Cayman Islands and sitting on the beach. Few of us would go without sunscreen here. But what about during the flight down?

UVA versus UVB Rays
As you may know, there are two different ultraviolet rays from the sun: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). To keep them straight think “A for aging” and “B for burning”. UVB rays cause sunburns and are blocked by glass. 

UVA is the dangerous radiation that causes free radicals and leads to wrinkles, brown spots and skin cancer. UVA rays also penetrate through glass, as in airplane windows. 

Put your sunscreen on before you take off.
When you fly you are about 35,000 feet closer to the sun with less atmosphere to shield you from the sun’s UVA radiation. This being the case, airline safety instructions could be amended to “Fasten your seat belt, make sure your tray tables are up and your sunscreen is on.”

But what about just a trip to Denver, Colorado? You will be a mile high, and a mile closer to the sun with less atmosphere to shield you from the ultraviolet rays. So you will have greater sun exposure as a result. Imagine what the exposure is like for the people climbing Mt. Everest.

If you are going on a road trip, wear sunscreen in the car.
You may have heard me mention that most people in the USA age more on the left side of the face than the right side of the face. Why? UVA rays penetrating through glass on the driver side window cause more sun damage to the left side of  your face. You can really see this in long haul truckers not only on their faces but also on their left arms and hands.

Sunscreen is always important. Whether you are climbing Mount Everest, flying in a plane, or just walking outside your door, you are getting sun exposure. And you don’t have to be burning up to be exposed to the problems associated with ultraviolet light.

My best advice…
Make the application of sunscreen part of your everyday routine to fight against the incidental sun exposure. But if you are in situations with increased exposure like I’ve mentioned above, really be vigilant about the use of sunscreen (especially if you are a flight attendant or pilot). And don’t forget to reapply!

All the best,

Dr. David B. Reath




David B. Reath, MD
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