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Accidental Sun Damage: How 5 Minutes of Incidental Sun Exposure Raises Skin Cancer Risk

Think you don’t need sunblock indoors? Think again! That sly old sun can cause long-term damage even when you don’t realize you’re soaking up rays.  

Sure, you slather on the sunscreen before heading out to the beach, the park, the pool, or when you enjoy a lovely meal outdoors. But what about when you have an indoor schedule? If you don’t bother with the SPF, you could still be vulnerable to UVA rays. 

How is that possible? Can the sun penetrate walls? 

If you’re entombed in a windowless space without a scrap of natural light, then (and only then) you might be okay without sunblock. But unless you’re literally living in an underground lair, you’re probably going to have to face the sun eventually, and even brief unprotected exposure can cause problems down the line. This phenomenon is known as incidental sun exposure. 

What is Incidental Sun Exposure? 

Incidental sun exposure is any brief exposure to the sun or sun exposure that seems inconsequential. For example, if you work in an environment with lots of natural light, you’re experiencing incidental sun exposure because the windows don’t block UVA radiation. UVA radiation causes skin damage and premature aging. It can also lead to certain skin cancers, even if it doesn’t cause sunburn. 

You can also experience incidental sun exposure in the following ways: 

  • Driving 
  • Walking to the corner store and back home 
  • Walking your dog 
  • Sitting in shady spots 
  • Being outside on cloudy days 

So, even a brief trip outdoors during daylight hours is incidental sun exposure. 

How Does Incidental Sun Exposure Harm You? 

Even if you don’t get sunburn from incidental sun exposure, UVA rays can lead to certain skin cancers over the long term, most notably basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Just five minutes of daily unprotected exposure to UVA and UVB rays can raise your risk. 

However, incidental sun exposure can sometimes be severe. It’s not uncommon to be sunburned while staying in the shade, and only five sunburns can double your risk of malignant melanoma. Also, one study found that approximately 74 percent of malignant melanoma appeared on the left side of men, corresponding with sun exposure while driving

However, with a little vigilance, you can keep your skin healthy!  

Tips For Getting Maximum Sun Protection 

Don’t let accumulated incidental sun exposure jeopardize the health of your skin! Here’s what you can do to keep your skin healthy: 

  • Make sunscreen application your default setting. There are some great sunscreens on the market – light as a feather and with fantastic moisturizing properties, too. When you go about your morning routine, simply apply sunscreen as you would any moisturizer or skincare product, regardless of whether you plan on spending time outdoors or not. 
  • Get UV filters for your car windows. Sun protection in the car is often overlooked. While most windshields have UV filtering properties, the side windows might not. If you spend a lot of time in your car, you’ll want to invest in UV-blocking films. This precaution not only helps to protect your skin; some filters can also help keep your car cooler, too. 
  • Have a long-sleeve cover-up handy. It’s not always comfortable wearing long-sleeved clothing in the sweltering heat. Nevertheless, try to have a lightweight long-sleeved shirt designed for UV protection on-hand for times when you have to venture outdoors or spend time in your car.  
  • Make wide-brimmed hats your fashion trademark. Everyone wore hats in the olden days – it might be time to bring them back for the sake of our skin! While front-brim hats (like baseball caps or newsie caps) can protect your face from the sun, your neck and ears remain exposed. The best hats are dark and tightly knit – if you can see through the hat, it won’t protect you. 
  • Get your skin checked. Regular trips to your dermatologist for skin checks are the best weapon against skin cancer. Early detection can save your skin and your life. 

If you’ve experienced years of accumulated incidental sun exposure, your best bet is to have your skin evaluated by a qualified dermatologist. Schedule an appointment with us today. 


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