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As 2020 has shaped up to be one of the hottest years on record, skin cancer charity Melanoma UK has appealed to van drivers to ensure they are adequately protected from the sun when behind the wheel over the remainder of the summer.

Many van drivers do not realise that they may be suffering overexposure to harmful UVA and UVB simply by driving their vehicles during daylight hours. This is true even when van drivers keep their windows closed. Although vehicle windows are generally quite effective at blocking out UVB rays – which are thought to be the most carcinogenic – they are less effective at blocking UVA rays, which, despite being less harmful, are still implicated in skin cancers and general sun damage to the skin.

Furthermore, Melanoma UK reported that van drivers in the UK were most at risk of right-hand side sun damage. This is because of the position of the driver on the right-hand side of the vehicle and the fact that it results in drivers experiencing direct exposure to sunlight on the right-hand-side arm, face, neck, ear and shoulder.

Half of all van drivers are oblivious to the risk, incorrectly assuming that they cannot suffer sun damage through their side windows. However, the charity reported that some do know the cost; one in five van drivers who participated in the study said they had experienced sunburn as a result of sun exposure while driving.

Worryingly, some van drivers admitted actually to increasing the risk or skin cancer, with 20% saying that they wind the window down and deliberately place their right arm on the driver side door in order to foster an asymmetric skin tone known to many as “white van man tan”.

Skin and sun safety while driving your van

Like any driver, van insurance customers should always take steps to limit their exposure to the sun’s UV rays when they are behind the wheel, particularly if they have a pale complexion, numerous moles or freckles, light-coloured eyes, or skin that is vulnerable for any other reason.

Unfortunately, only one in five van drivers who participated in the Melanoma UK survey reported regularly using sunscreen to protect themselves. However, all drivers who consistently spend daylight hours behind the wheel should wear sunscreen or cover up with long-sleeved clothing. In many cases, it may also be advisable to wear a suitable hat (particularly if your van has a sunroof) as well as sun-safe sunglasses that are also suitable for driving.

It is also advisable to also carry sunscreen in the vehicle, additional clothing and some kind of sunshade, as if you break down somewhere, it may not be possible to find nearby shade.

Choosing a sunscreen

In order to ensure adequate protection from the sun, the NHS recommends that people:

  • Choose a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more
  • Choose a sunscreen that has a 4-star UVA protection rating or has the appropriate EU standard UVA mark
  • Only ever use sunscreen that is in date

How to wear sunscreen

Not only is it important to apply sunscreen, it is also essential that you apply enough. The NHS recommends that adults apply two teaspoons of sunscreen if just covering the head, arms and neck – as would be typical for most van drivers.

Furthermore, if van drivers are going to be in the sun for an extended period they should apply protection 30 minutes before they go into the sun and again immediately before they go out. It should then be reapplied as often as prescribed by the product's instructions – typically every two hours.

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