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Sun Exposure on Road Trips: July 17, 2011

Carol Elliot is just settling in from an 8,000-mile road trip.

“We took a real long trip to California and back and stopped in Las Vegas and Grand Canyon.”

Her multi-state swing may have added more than miles to her life. Recent studies show that we overlook exposure to UV rays when we’re in the car. Dr. Drew Kreegel, a plastic surgeon with Lee Memorial Health System, cautions the danger is all around us.

“There’s nothing unique about the beach that makes it more risky except for the fast that people are generally more exposed and for a longer period of time out on the beach than they are when doing everyday activities.”

The car/skin cancer link was detailed in a study that found most skin cancers develop on the left side, or driver’s side of the body, and 55% were on the upper arms. In countries where the steering wheel is on the right, more cancer appeared there.

This should be enough to motivated drivers to wear sunscreen when they get behind the wheel, especially for long morning trips. Even if the window is up, it doesn’t offer any protection from the sun’s rays.

“The concern is the potential for causing skin cancer and also skin aging the damage it does to the different layers to the skin,” says Dr. Kreegel.

To protect from potentially deadly melanoma, new sunscreen guidelines suggest a broad spectrum SPF 15 is the best overall and should be reapplied as needed.

“Apply it initially, preferably, at least 30 minutes before sun exposure,” says Dr. Kreegel.

And don’t think the sun danger has set just because you take a break. When you’re outside, you’re susceptible.

“We were touring, so we would stop somewhere most everyday to tour the area, which would give us a break. Like the Grand Canyon we walked several miles,” says Elliot.

Especially in the summer months, the best protection for skin cancer is to cover up.