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Wear sunscreen… on your flight?

12 February 2018 09:33

Airplane passengers should wear UVA protection

Airplane passengers should wear UVA protection

Health experts have warned air passengers they face greater exposure to more harmful rays during air travel so have a greater risk of contracting skin cancer than those on the ground.

Matt Gass, a spokesperson for the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), told the Telegraph: "There are two types of UV radiation linked to skin cancer; ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).

"When you're in a plane the UVB radiation, most associated with sunburn, is blocked by the windows of the plane, but the UVA radiation is not. As you are much closer to the ozone layer the sun's rays are much more harmful."

Sunburn, wrinkles and skin cancer

Matt advises that airplane passengers, particularly those seated next to windows, should wear UVA protection sunscreen to help protect skin against "photo-ageing" (wrinkles caused by overexposure to the sun), sunburn and potentially also skin cancer.

A study in 2015 analysed the risk of melanoma in pilots and cabin crew. The results were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology.

The study found that pilots flying for about an hour at 30,000 feet were exposed to the same amount of carcinogenic UVA radiation as one would receive from a 20-minute session on a tanning bed.

The report showed that levels could be vastly increased during periods flying over thick layers of cloud and snow fields, which could reflect up to 85% of UV radiation.

Plane windshields are not strong enough to protect pilots as they don't completely block UV radiation. Therefore, a pilot risks an increased chance of contracting melanoma.

'A bit speculative'

The study showed that airplane windshields block out 99% of rays which cause sunburn, but only 50% of rays which contribute to the contraction of melanoma.

However, to apply the same level of risk to all types of aircraft is "a bit speculative" according to health expert Dr Richard Dawood, as the study was carried out based on the cockpit of a Socata TBM850, a single turbo-prop private plane.

"Modern passenger jets fly at much higher altitudes, so presumably have tougher windows and windshields. I suspect they also therefore have higher UV attenuating properties," Dr Dawood said.

Health experts do think awareness and prevention are key, though, as four out of five cases of skin cancer are preventable.

(BAD) considers wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen on flights to be a "sensible" measure in preventing irreversible damage to skin.

Before you travel abroad this summer, make sure you sort the suitable insurance cover for you.