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Why You Should Absolutely Wear Sunscreen on a Plane

Man by a window seat on a plane looking at his phone

When you hop on a plane, you might end up going to a tropical destination. And, you probably know how important it is to lather on sunscreen when you’re on a beach or walking around local shops and tourist attractions on a sunny day. But, most people don’t usually think about putting on sunscreen while they’re on a plane.

However, if you’re not, you could be making a big mistake.

Spending time navigating the friendly skies could do as much damage to your skin as a tanning bed.

One study from 2015 found that crew members in the cockpit of a plane flying at 30,000 feet for just under an hour experienced the same amount of UV rays as someone would if they were in a tanning bed for 20 minutes.

While pilots and flight attendants might be more at risk of developing skin cancer because of these numbers, what about passengers?

You’re obviously not going to fly as often as a crew, but you should still protect your skin when you’re on a plane, since there’s always a risk of UV exposure.

Some people like to fly with their shade open, and any time you can see sunlight coming through the window on a plane, you’re at risk of UV rays penetrating your skin. To make matters worse, when you’re flying at high altitudes, it’s much easier for those rays to reflect off of surrounding clouds, increasing your risk of exposure.

The window itself doesn’t necessarily keep you safe. Ultraviolet A rays can penetrate through both windows and clouds to permeate into your skin and put you at risk of radiation.

So, what can you do to protect yourself?

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The right clothing can protect you from harmful UV rays.

Applying sunscreen 20-30 minutes before you board your flight is the easiest way to create a barrier and protect your skin. You can pack sunscreen into your carry-on bag as long as it isn’t larger than 3.4 ounces.

Additionally, consider wearing protective clothing, including a long-sleeved shirt and a hat. You can always remove the outer layers if you get too hot, but it’s better to cover as much as possible, especially if you have a window seat.

Speaking of window seats—they can offer great views, but the closer you are to the window, the greater your risk of UV exposure. Try to avoid opening the shade for the whole flight. If you don’t have control over it and you’re in the middle or aisle seats, wearing sunscreen as a backup is a great way to keep your skin safe.

So, don’t wait until you reach your tropical destination to slather on the sunscreen. Do it before your flight, and you’ll dramatically reduce your risk of harmful sun exposure at 30,000 feet.

Stacey Koziel Stacey Koziel
Stacey Koziel is a news writer at LifeSavvy. She's worked as a freelance writer for over ten years, focusing on family and lifestyle content. She also has a background in marketing and social media, and is always eager to talk (and write!) about the latest TikTok trends. Read Full Bio »
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