With travel season well underway, millions of people across the country are getting on planes every day. But while you might have sunscreen packed for your tropical vacation, you could be putting your skin at risk if you’re not also slathering on SPF before your flight.

Take a look at the reasons why it is so important for your skin’s health to wear sunscreen while flying on a plane, plus read some pro tips for easy sun protection while traveling.

UVA Rays Can Penetrate Glass

While you might feel like you’re inside a stuffy cabin while traveling on a plane, the truth is that UVA rays can penetrate through the plane’s polycarbonate plastic or glass windows, putting your skin at risk of sun damage.

The sun emits UVA, UVB, and UVC rays. However, UVC rays are blocked by the earth’s ozone layer and therefore do not reach the inner layer of the earth’s atmosphere. UVA and UVB rays, on the other hand, both reach the earth’s surface.

UVB rays are shorter and cause sunburn symptoms like redness and burning, while UVA rays are longer and accelerate skin aging. UVA rays are also able to penetrate glass and can therefore cause skin damage even when you are sitting inside an office, car, or plane.

UV Rays Are Stronger at Higher Altitudes

The strength of UV rays increases as you increase in altitude on a plane. A 2015 study published in JAMA Dermatology measured the amount of UVA rays at ground level compared to various altitudes. At ground level in Las Vegas, Nevada, the amount of UVA rays was 127 μW/cm2, compared to 242 μW/cm2 at 30,000 feet above sea level.

This same study compared the amount of UV radiation that airplane pilots receive compared to a typical 20-minute session in a tanning bed. A 20-minute indoor tanning session produces a UV dose of 2940 J/m2. A pilot flying at 30,000 feet above sea level for just 56.6 minutes receives the same 2940 J/m2 of UV radiation. As the researchers point out, this UV dosage could be significantly higher when flying over thick clouds or snow-covered fields, which reflect up to 85% of UV light.

Thus, even a quick one-hour flight can expose your skin to the same amount of UV radiation as a tanning bed session. Because of this, wearing sun protection on airplanes is a crucial preventative step to reduce your risk of skin damage, accelerated skin aging, and skin cancers. It is especially important to wear sunscreen while on long daytime flights, as well as when sitting next to a window.

Sun Protection Travel Tips

Follow these tips to make sun protection simple and easy while traveling this summer.

1. Bring Travel-Sized Sunscreen in your Carry-On 

As long as your sunscreen bottle is 3.4 ounces or less, it complies with TSA guidelines and you can bring it in your carry-on bag. Even better yet, pack stick sunscreens, which do not count as liquids according to TSA and therefore do not have size limitations.

It is important to have sunscreen with you on the plane so you can reapply every two hours while on long daytime flights, especially if you’re sitting near an open window. You can also reapply right before you land so you don’t have to worry about trying to apply sunscreen in the airport amidst all the hustle and bustle of getting your luggage and getting to your destination.

2. Use Tinted SPF and Skip Makeup

Tinted sunscreen is an excellent stand-in for foundation the morning before a flight. You’ll be able to streamline your morning beauty routine, plus you won’t have to worry about heavy makeup trapping dirt and germs inside your pores while on a plane — but you’ll still get that summer glow from the SPF tint.

We also recommend using a mineral-based sunscreen on your face. Look for ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide to find mineral-based sunscreens, which create a physical barrier between your skin and UV light.

3. Wear Sun-Protective Clothing

If you don’t want to wear sunscreen on your arms and legs while sitting on a long flight, you can still protect your skin with sun-protective clothing. Many brands now offer lightweight, breathable clothing that comfortably keeps your skin protected from the sun.

Don’t forget to pack sunglasses in your carry-on, especially if you want to look out the plane window. And when you’re not taking in the view, keep the window shade pulled down if possible to reduce the amount of UV light that can reach your skin.

4. Pack the Right Type of Sunscreen for Your Destination

Some destinations such as Hawaii, parts of Mexico, the US Virgin Islands, and Aruba require the use of reef-safe sunscreens to help protect natural coral reefs. Reef-safe sunscreens do not contain chemical ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate that are now known to cause coral bleaching and harm wildlife.

Additionally, titanium dioxide, an ingredient commonly found in some mineral-based sunscreens, does not biodegrade and is harmful to sea life. Mineral-based sunscreens with zinc oxide and/or low levels of titanium dioxide are safer choices for sea life.

Be sure to check sunscreen guidelines for your destination before you leave home to make sure you have the right SPF products packed.

Bottom Line

Applying sunscreen is an important step before traveling on a plane  — and it can even come with the added bonus of replacing your makeup so you can streamline your early morning routine. Don’t forget to reapply sunscreen while on long daytime flights, especially if you are seated next to a window.

When you get home, make sure you’re scheduled for a yearly skin exam with your dermatologist to help prevent and early detect melanoma and other forms of skin cancer.

Don’t already have a yearly skin exam scheduled? Call our Delray Beach office at (561) 692-6422 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with one of our board-certified dermatologists today!