UAE motorists should apply sunblock before getting behind the wheel to cut skin cancer risks during the scorching summer, doctors said.
It means people need to be vigilant as the mercury rises, including when they are inside their cars.
“It’s a mistake to think that you are safe because you are inside and behind the wheel of the car,” said Dr Jyothish George, specialist dermatologist with Prime Hospital, Dubai.
“You need to take the same precautions that you would any other time you are out in the sun, especially if you are driving for longer periods.”
The people most at risk are those with fair skin, he said.
One in every three cancers diagnosed in the world today is a skin cancer.
There were more than 320,000 cases of skin cancer globally in 2020, the most recent figures available from the World Cancer Research Fund International.
Guarding against complacency
While the survival rates are high, so are the levels of ignorance of complacency about the risks involved in being exposed to extreme sunlight.
“You need to use protection of at least 30SPF on the exposed areas of skin on your body,” he said.
“I also recommend that you wear shirts or clothes that cover up your arms while driving.
“It’s essential you are adequately prepared. Don’t forget to reapply the sunblock every two hours as well for maximum protection.”
The main risk comes from exposure to the UV rays from the sun.
The UV index is usually the highest between March and September.
Dubai had a UV rating of 10 on Tuesday, which is considered a high risk rating for unprotected exposure to the sun, according to data from the UK's Met Office, which supplies global UV level figures.
Abu Dhabi's rating of 12 is considered an extreme risk.
Some are more vulnerable than others to the effects of UV rays, said Dr George.
“It is hard to pinpoint the exact cause for each individual case of skin cancer, but there are people who are more high risk than others,” he said.
“People with fair complexions are going to be more prone to skin cancer than those with more pigmentation.
“Anyone with fairer skin will not have as much melanin to protect them.”
Another expert said part of the problem in the region was down to the terrain.
Staying safe in summer
“The penetration of UV rays through the ozone layer continues to increase as it continues to get depleted with more pollution," said Dr Aashim Singh Kukreja, specialist dermatologist with Medcare.
“It is also noteworthy that sand reflects the ultraviolet radiation and increases the exposure.”
She said driving in peak sunlight hours posed health risks, if motorists failed to take the necessary precautions.
“Driving in the sun, especially between 10am to 4pm, exposes skin to a high degree of UV radiation,” said Dr Kukreja.
“This can lead to early signs of ageing, dermal elastosis, wrinkling, lentigines, pigmentation, freckles and even other signs of actinic damage including skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and actinic keratosis on repetitive exposure.”
A rise in outdoor activities in recent years is believed to play a part in the increased risk of contracting skin cancer in the UAE, if precautions are not followed, she added.
“There has also been a rise in the outdoor activities here with more sun exposure from beach vacationing, water sports, and other facets of the fast-developing metropolitan life in the UAE,” said Dr Kukreja.
“This has led to an increase in sun related skin issues and more awareness and visits to the skin clinics for check-ups.”