I always go for the window seat. I’d like to say it’s because I get to marvel at the beauty of our planet from above, but really, I just need a place to rest my head as I close my eyes and drool for a few uncomfortable hours. In my thirty-something years of air travel, I’ve never questioned my seating preference, until I learned that my face may be frying because of it.
OK, that may be a bit extreme, but the fact that our skin is more susceptible to sun damage when we’re in the sky is something we’re rarely warned about. Yet the risk is real. While most aeroplane windows effectively block UVB rays, UVA radiation can still penetrate through and may be “much more intense at higher altitudes,” as Dr. Marisa Garshick, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College, explains to Travel + Leisure.
In a 2014 study published in JAMA Dermatology, researchers found that in terms of radiation doses, flying for 56.6 minutes at cruising altitude is equivalent to spending 20 minutes in a tanning bed. Pilots and flight crews have nearly twice the incidence of melanoma, one analysis found, and though it’s not completely clear why, UV exposure may be to blame.
So how do we protect ourselves in this radiation-trapping vessel? We should be wearing sunscreen on the plane and reapplying it every two hours.
You can toss one or two travel-sized containers into your carry-on, and set alarms for yourself to slather the stuff on thickly. Also — I’m sorry, fellow window seat people — sitting in the aisle seat also helps lessen our UV exposure. As does closing the shade. If you fly often, The Points Guy says you can go as far as opting for evening flights, as the greatest risk of sun damage happens between 10am and 4pm.