Cover Up

The summer flying season is upon us and so are strong sunrays. It's time to think about how to best protect yourself from contracting skin cancer and other damage that can result from the UV beams that bear down on you inside and outside the cockpit. You may think you are inside and protected while in the cockpit, but your arms, face and head can be exposed to the damaging sunrays for hours while flying.

Some studies indicate that airline pilots have elevated incidences of melanoma — the most serious type of skin cancer. A study done by Iceland Air in the 1990s determined that airline pilots have a 25 percent higher probability of contracting melanoma compared with the general population of Iceland. The study did not conclude the cause of the increased rate of skin cancer, but suggested that the exposure to sunlight at higher altitude could be the culprit. It has also been suggested that the irregular sleep patterns airline pilots experience and other causes contribute to the higher rates of skin cancer.

Regardless of the type of airplane you fly, it doesn't hurt to protect yourself from the sun. The most obvious thing you can do is slather on sunscreen on the areas that are exposed. The Mayo Clinic recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks out both UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater. Regardless of what sunscreen you decide to use, apply it to all exposed skin. Don't forget any bald areas on top of your head as it is often the most exposed part of your body, unless you are wearing a hat.

A hat is definitely a great choice since the best defense against the sun is to cover up. You may also want to protect your body with a long-sleeved shirt and pants, even if they will make you feel a little warmer. Clothing will also protect you in the unlikely event of a fire, but make sure the material is fire retardant.

If you are flying an airplane with a glass canopy you are particularly vulnerable to the rays of the sun. You may want to consider purchasing a sunshade you can suction cup onto the canopy to add additional protection.

Finally, it is really important to wear sunglasses while you fly to protect one of the most important parts of your body — your eyes. The use of sunglasses doesn't only make you feel more comfortable, it can also reduce your chances of getting age-related macular degeneration, which can result from UV-ray exposure.

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Pia Bergqvist joined FLYING in December 2010. A passionate aviator, Pia started flying in 1999 and quickly obtained her single- and multi-engine commercial, instrument and instructor ratings. After a decade of working in general aviation, Pia has accumulated almost 3,000 hours of flight time in nearly 40 different types of aircraft.

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