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You can get Sunburned on an Airplane

by John Webber

Why an airplane may be worse for your skin than a tanning bed – wearing your seatbelt isn’t the only safety precaution you should take on an airplane. For if you thought you only needed to pack sunscreen for a beach vacation, think again: you’re at risk for a sunburn every time you board an airplane.

We asked Dr. Doris Day, a New York City dermatologist and author of Forget the Facelift, what to look for in a sunscreen and to weigh in on the topic. In her words, “it could be a concern.”

“The fact is, flying at 30,000 feet [for 60 minutes] can be as dangerous as 20 minutes in a tanning bed,” Day said.

If you consider that, while traveling at cruising altitude, you’re nearly six miles closer to the sun than you would be lounging poolside at ground level, it’s easy to see how damaging that sunshine through your airplane window can be.

While the glass blocks standard UVB rays, more harmful UVA rays can still pass through. “We now know that all wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation are known carcinogens,” Day said. “Enough exposure will lead to both premature aging and skin cancer.”

No one is at greater risk than pilots, who—the New York Times reported—have a known higher incidence of skin cancer. Experts suspect this could be due to regular, extended flight time in front of a large window.

Even though you’re next to a small window (and probably spending far less time in the sky than pilots), it’s important to take precautions while traveling. Fortunately, you don’t have to abstain from the window seat altogether.

“Keep the blinds down when you can, and wear sun protection that is broad spectrum and specifically says UVA protection,” Day said. “There is also a drugstore supplement called Heliocare that gives a little [additional] UV protection. It doesn’t replace the need for a sunscreen, but it can provide extra protection.”      @wbbrjp

If you’re a frequent flyer and are still concerned about clocking too many hours of sunlight on an airplane, consider moving over to the middle seat.

“Do not go where the path leads, travel instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

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