Home Travel Should You Wear Sunscreen If You Have The Window Seat On A Plane?

Should You Wear Sunscreen If You Have The Window Seat On A Plane?

by SharonKurheg

I love getting the window seat. I’ve always enjoyed looking out the window, seeing the clouds and the earth and everything in between. You can keep your easier access to the lavatory and the extra knee room you get from being on the aisle; as long as I have a window to look out of, I’m a happy camper.

It never dawned on me that the sunlight coming in from the plane’s windows could be dangerous. I always figured they were like a car’s window and somehow blocked all the bad rays. Well, it turns out that a car’s windows only block SOME of the bad rays, and the same goes for the windows on a plane.

Last year I went through the removal of what turned out to be a precancerous spot on my face, as well as a mole on my leg that had “messed up cells” in it. In discussion with my dermatologist to help avoid either of these things happening again, we went over my lifestyle when it comes to the sun:

  • I used to sunbathe when I was a teenager but haven’t done it in decades
  • If I’m going to be outdoors for a significant amount of time (read: a theme park or water park), I wear SPF 50 sunscreen and reapply often, a long-sleeved UPF 40 shirt for the water parks, and a wide-brimmed hat for both types of parks.
  • If I’m in the car or on a plane, I don’t use sunscreen

And that third one was the one that my dermatologist said I needed to change.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer (and wrinkles, leathering, sagging and brown “age” spots) is caused by UV radiation from the sun. There are two types of UV rays: long-wavelength UVA (Ultraviolet A)  and shortwave UVB (Ultraviolet B).

When you’re in a car, the windshield protects you from UVA and UVB rays, but the side and back windows only protect you from UVB; the UVA rays are allowed to penetrate.


The exact same thing happens when you’re on the plane – the windows still allow UVA rays to come in. According to this PDF from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “UV increases about 2% for every 1,000-foot increase.” So since you’re about 35,000 feet closer to the ozone layer when you’re flying, those UVA rays are much more harmful. And unfortunately, UVA rays can penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB, which puts you at even more risk for skin damage.

So yep, slather than sunscreen before you get on a plane.

Feature photo: Bharatahs/Wikipedia

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Schooner June 25, 2019 - 9:04 am

Not to get off topic, but what if you have after-market extra tint added to your side and back car windows?

SharonKurheg June 25, 2019 - 9:47 am

Good question. No idea…I didn’t research that for the article 😉

derek June 25, 2019 - 12:35 pm

The front windshield has laminated glass, which is a thin plastic film in between 2 layers of glass. The side windows of cars almost always has tempered glass, which is just hardened. I believe laminated glass on the sides is extremely uncommon.

If you place tint with static cling, it does provide UVA protection.

jon June 25, 2019 - 10:47 am

I fly quite a bit & have melanoma history to my forearms. If I am at a window seat on a day flight I usually make sure my arms are covered with either clothing or I drape a blanket over the arm getting the sun. Haven’t put on sunscreen for a flight. Have had it on some flights because I had been in an island location and applied it before the days travel.

Lisa S September 2, 2020 - 12:22 pm

Many times the pre-cancers or skin cancers are a result of sun damage from 20 years ago or more. Back in the “good old days” we used the SPF 2 of Hawaiian Tropic or the 4 of Coppertone if we were lucky (and not using baby oil)!


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