69-year-old man with sun damage on left side of face
The New England Journal of Medicine (c) 2012

Want to see the age damage that sun can cause—even through a closed car window? Check out the photo on the left of a 69-year-old truck driver that was recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine. All those wrinkles and sags are thanks to the sun’s ultraviolet A rays that pass unimpeded through glass.

“The damage on one side if his face is mostly from [sun] exposure,” said Dr. Jennifer Gordon, a dermatologist at Northwestern University who took the photo and published the case study. “It is surprising how much more exposure you do get on the side of your body towards the window in whichever side of the car you most commonly are on.”

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While ultraviolet B rays—the kind that cause sunburns—don’t penetrate through closed car windows, UVA rays can, and both UVB and UVA rays are associated with skin cancer. But most drivers don’t think to wear sunscreen, especially when they have the windows closed.

This particular man drove a delivery truck for 28 years and developed a thickening of his skin’s upper epidermis layer from sun exposure as well as a destruction of elastic fibers beneath the skin that caused sagging. He told Gordon he never wore sunscreen while driving his truck.

That’s something Gordon recommends to anyone sitting in a car for long drives this summer. The Skin Cancer Foundation also recommends UV film for car windows; a one-time application of the transparent sheets to car windows, performed at many car dealerships, screen out nearly 100 percent of UVA rays without reducing a driver’s visibility. Cost usually runs $100 to $200, depending on the size of the car.