Drivers warned of ‘white van tan’ dangers as UK continues to heat up

Published:  24 July, 2018

Amanda Stretton, motoring editor at Confused.com, explains the sun damage risk that van drivers face – and the precautions they should take.

An experiment has revealed drivers are more likely to develop skin damage on one side of the body due to uneven exposure.

Drivers are being urged to cover up before jumping behind the wheel as the UK continues to see scorching temperatures.

But it seems motorists across the UK aren’t aware that they could be giving themselves sun damage just by doing one simple thing they do most days – driving.

An experiment conducted by Confused.com and skin cancer charity Melanoma UK found that drivers are still at risk of developing sun damage while driving, even with the car window closed. And the results of the experiment show the right hand side of the body is more likely to be effected.

But worryingly, not all drivers are aware of the risks. New research by the driver savings site, found that almost half (49%) of UK drivers are do not know you can still get sun damage in the car, even with the windows closed. And the study shows some drivers have already been caught out by the sun’s piercing rays, with one in five (20%) having suffered with a sun burn while on the road.

Despite the risks, more than one in seven (15%) drivers admit to sticking their arm out of the window in order to achieve a bronzed look – dubbed the ‘white van tan’, commonly associated with van drivers. But, worryingly, many drivers aren’t taking precautions beforehand. In fact, almost a fifth (19%) of UK drivers have never applied an SPF to their skin in the UK, despite studies showing long-term exposure to the sun while driving can lead to wrinkles, leathering, sagging and even skin cancers. And given the average driver spends more than one and a half hours a day in the car, regular motorists could be at an increased risk of skin damage due to prolonged sun exposure, especially during the summer months.

According to dermatologist Dr Christian Aldridge, a representative from Melanoma UK, glass – like clouds - does not protect you from UV radiation. These harmful sun rays can still pass through closed car windows, putting motorists at risk of asymmetrical sun damage. For years, dermatologists have observed that patients in the US, where left-hand drive cars are the norm, often have more sun damage on the left side of their faces than on the right, which can lead to wrinkles, leathering, sagging, brown age spots and even skin cancers(1). One study showed the side of the body next to the window received up to six times the dose of UV radiation compared to the shaded side(1).

While we aren’t as fortunate as our American cousins when it comes to our yearly supply of sunshine, British drivers do need to be aware of the dangers of sunburn when driving in the height of summer or during a heatwave. To showcase how the sun can affect drivers, Confused.com and Melanoma UK tested the skin of two British drivers – comparing the right side of their face, shoulders and arms to the left which is shaded when driving.

Dr Aldridge carried out the examination on individuals using UV photo technology to pick up on areas of sun damage not visible to the naked eye. Worryingly, results taken from a van driver from South Wales detected pre-cancerous cells on his right forearm - the arms most typically exposed to the sun - which was consequently treated. The research also highlighted the protective benefits of sunscreen when driving. Stretton, who regularly uses cosmetics containing SPF had little to no sun damage in comparison when tested. You can view the full examination here.

The findings shed light on the fact that our attitudes towards the sun change as we age. Perhaps unsurprisingly, young adults are the most care-free when it comes to exposing their skin to the sun’s potentially harmful rays. Almost one in four (23%) 18-24 year-olds say they never apply an SPF while in the UK, compared with one in eight (12%) 35-44 year-olds, the age group most likely to apply protection. However, surprisingly, the over-55s are worse than the youngsters in their reckless regard for the damage the sun can do to your skin. One in five (25%) adults in this age group say they don’t apply sun cream whether inside or out of a car even if they weather is nice in the UK - the highest percentage of all age groups.

Stretton said: “We have been very fortunate to have had some warm weather the past few weeks, but many drivers don’t realise they could burn even through the windows of their car!

“Our experiment highlights how important it is to apply sun cream in this weather, especially if you’re a frequent or commercial driver. With one in five (20%) drivers having suffered with sun burn while travelling in the car, applying sunscreen before jumping behind the wheel is equally as important as if you are sunbathing.”

1. http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/are-you-at-risk/sun-hazards-in-your-car

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