With the country starting to open again, people are travelling around Australia more than ever, meaning their skin is more exposed to the harsh Australian sun. For example, if you’re local to Tasmania and travelling to Cairns – your skin will experience a much different type of sun exposure than ever before. Likewise, if you’re in a car or a plane for long periods, you may ditch your SPF skincare routine assuming that the windows will be enough to halt the damage. Unfortunately, the windows found in planes, cars and trains aren’t thick or glazed enough to offer protection from UV rays, and you can still find your skin is damaged, freckled, or even burnt. We’ve compiled some essential information to keep in mind the next time you hit the road or the skies to lower your risk of skin cancer while travelling and to keep your skin in the best condition no matter where you are in the world. 

The Lowdown on UVA & UVB Rays

Most keen travellers would be familiar with the feeling of heat that can blast through aeroplane windows if you’re stuck on the sunny side of the plane. Most people don’t know that this heat can cause great damage. There are two types of sun rays that can harm the skin and lead to cancer. These include UVB – the rays that cause sunburn, and UVA rays – the rays that cause wrinkles and ageing. Glass and windshields can protect the occupant from UVB rays adequately, but not UVA rays. Additionally, back windows, sunroofs and side windows won’t protect from UVB either. 

If you’re in a plane at high altitudes, the UVA rays will be attacking your skin more intensely, in fact, pilots and flight attendants are known as one of the highest risk professions of developing skin cancer for this reason. Falling asleep in the sun for a long flight in cool air conditioning may sound appealing, but always ensure you have the window shade down (at your flight attendants’ discretion) or your arms and chest covered with a thin blanket. In preparing for your flight, be sure to find a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage in the maximum size that the carry-on rules will allow. This will ensure the sunscreen can fight both UVA and UVB rays and that you can reapply mid-flight or before leaving the aircraft. 

Always Slip Slop Slap, even in the Car…

The Cancer Council Australia states that “you can get burnt through a car window. Non-tinted glass reduces but will not block the transmission of UV radiation”, and that most commonly, people are burnt with the windows down. Driving around the countryside with the windows down paints an ideal picture, but it’s important to ensure that you are well covered in sunscreen while doing so. If you’re lucky enough to be driving around in a convertible, it becomes even more important to slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat, just as you would for a day at the beach.  Always remember that tinted windows and polarized sunglasses won’t protect you from the sun’s rays. A good practice is to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen before leaving the house, every time. 

Additionally, window shades can add an extra layer of protection from the sun that may mean the difference between getting burnt or not. Most window shades are readily available, manufactured to fit multiple different vehicle types, and can reduce the impact of the sun’s rays by over 50%. Window shades are essential if travelling for long distances with young children who don’t know to reapply or stay out of the sun’s focus, so you can have peace of mind that they are safe from the sun in the backseat. 

Never Underestimate the Australian Sun 

According to the Cancer Council Australia, in a high UV environment such as Australia, sun exposure can subtly accumulate over time during activities from driving to having a picnic, increasing your overall risk of skin cancer. If you’re travelling to Australia for the first time, or if you’re visiting another part of the country where the weather is vastly different, it can be easy to underestimate the strength of the sun. The Australian sun can burn you in as little as 15 minutes of exposure, even on cloudy days. It’s important to protect yourself from UV rays particularly between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm, when the sun rests right above you and the UV rays are at their highest. When travelling through and to Australia, be sun smart by wearing clothes that cover as much of your skin as possible, applying a water-resistant SPF 30+ sunscreen regularly throughout the day, wearing a wide-brimmed hat and polarized sunglasses. Additionally, allow yourself plenty of time in the shade and lots of water to drink. In areas such as Queensland or Darwin, the sun can appear harshly even in the middle of winter and take you by surprise. Always pack plenty of sunscreen, water and a hat, even if the weather looks cold and cloudy when you leave the house. 

Why Sun Protection is so Important…

Laying in the sun or driving with the windows down may feel relaxing, but the damage it is doing to your skin is irreparable. With prolonged exposure, you can expect age spots, wrinkles and a lack of elasticity in the skin – or ultimately, skin cancer. Over time, the suns UV (Ultraviolet) rays harm the fibres in the skin called elastin. This damage results in the skin becoming more prone to sagging and stretching, bruising and not healing from cuts quickly. Additionally, it can widen the small blood vessels in your skin, give a rough texture or freckly appearance, and discolour the skin.

The best ways to protect your skin in general, including when you’re travelling in a car, train, or plane, should be practised any time that you leave the house. These include:

  1. Wear sunscreen in every season and weather type. It should have broad-spectrum, 30+ SPF and be applied 15 minutes before leaving the house, with about the amount to fill a shot glass to cover the entire body. 
  2. Reapply sunscreen every 80 minutes, especially when sweating or swimming.
  3. Wear sunglasses with total UV protection – particularly one’s rated by the Cancer Council (found in most pharmacies Australia wide). 
  4. Wear wide-brimmed hats plus long clothing where possible. 
  5. Avoid being in direct sunlight from 11 am to 3 pm. 
  6. Check your skin regularly for any changes in skin tone, texture, or for any new growths. 
  7. Use cosmetics with protection such as powder sunscreen or pressed powder with SPF, to add an extra layer of sun safety over your sunscreen. 
  8. Protect your children by using the same sun safety techniques on the whole family and incorporating it into your daily routine. 

The most important thing to remember when travelling, regarding sun protection, is to use the same measures of safety and sunburn prevention that you would use for a day out in the sun. Never assume you are protected purely from the windows, screens or sunroofs of your vehicle, and always remember that more is best when it comes to sun safety. 

For more information on what skin cancer looks like, visit our blog here. To book an appointment in one of our clinics Australia wide, call 13 SKIN (13 75 46), or fill out our contact form here.  

Resources: 

10 myths about sun protection | Cancer Council