Is Flying Just as Bad as a Tanning Bed?

Last week’s news that the New York State Attorney General is filing lawsuits against two tanning salon chains for making misleading claims brings to the forefront just how dangerous UV rays really are. The stats are seriously scary: According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), even ONE indoor tanning session can increase your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by 67 percent and basal cell carcinoma by 29 percent. What’s more, a study from JAMA Dermatology, showed that the number of skin cancer cases due to tanning is actually higher than the number of lung cancer cases due to smoking.

So, even if you have warded off the tanning beds and are pretty diligent about wearing SPF, what about other, lesser-known super strong sources of the sun that you might face this summer—like flying in a plane—which actually puts you closer to the sun’s rays?

“Flying in an airplane can be just as bad as being in a tanning bed!” explains New York dermatologist Michael Shapiro, MD. “Being at an elevated height in the air, you are more susceptible to the strong UV rays of the sun. Plus, the glass windows of airplanes do a poor job at protecting your skin from UV rays, which is why it is important to cover your skin and utilize the shade covers on the windows.”

According to Dr. Shapiro, new studies even show that, on average, an hour in an airplane with the sun beating down on you through a window at 30,000 feet is equivalent to 12–20 minutes in a tanning bed. Additionally, windows don’t block UVA rays, which are the rays associated with wrinkling, skin aging and skin cancer. “However, the windows of the plane are small and most people don’t fly every day, which is why we should consider car windows and protecting ourselves while driving because most people spend a lot of time in their cars,” he adds.

Bottom line: Wear sunscreen—no matter your mode of transportation. The AAD recommends a broad-spectrum one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and has an SPF of at least 30 or greater.

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