Window tinting and sun protection – does darkening your windows make you safe from UV rays?

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Recently I’ve learned there are many things one must consider when looking for a new car – before handing over cash for that new set of wheels. According to my “car enthusiast” boyfriend, one must look at the make, model, fuel efficiency, cost per kilometer to drive, and, most importantly, safety – does it have ABS brakes? Curtain airbags? How well does it protect you in a collision?

The conversations have generally gone like this:

Him: What would happen if a tree fell over in the middle of the freeway right in front of you?

Me: Huh? Why would a tree be near the freeway?

Him: I’m being serious, you need ABS brakes.

Me: But I really like this (insert car model here), look, it’s so shiny.

Him: But it doesn’t have any safety features!

Me: But it’s so pretty.

Him: Sigh …

While many people consider these safety features, one of the things many of us don’t consider when purchasing a car, is protection for our skin against UV rays. At Cancer Council, we get asked a lot about whether or not people should get their windows tinted to protect from high levels of UV radiation, which can cause skin cancer.

So, should you shell out for tinting on your windows to keep your skin safe from UV? Opinions vary on how much protection window tinting offers, but as a general rule, you should be wary of any car dealers selling that car which was owned by “one little old lady” and has “100% protection against the sun because of its window tinting.”

Research shows that window tinting in cars offers some protection against UV radiation.

As the Cancer Council Australia Position statement states:

  • UV radiation levels inside a car vary depending on factors such as whether the side windows are open or closed and the orientation of the vehicle with respect to the sun. 
  • They are generally much lower than outside in full sunlight, varying from as low as 4% up to 50% of the ambient UV radiation outside the vehicle.
  • Clear auto glass (side windows) blocks about 97% of the UVB radiation and about 37% of UVA radiation. 
  • Laminated windscreens block all of the UVB radiation and about 80% of the UVA radiation.
  • Clear windscreen films can reduce the transmission of UVR further so that as much as 97% of the UVA is blocked. This depends on the quality of film used.
  • Clear or tinted films can also reduce the amount of UVA and UVB penetrating through the side glass. The amount of protection varies with different products.

So, our recommendation is that if you’re not spending a lot of time in the car with your children every day, there’s really no need to get window tinting. However, it’s a wise choice if you’re spending much of your day behind the wheel such as a salesperson or a truck driver would.

Cancer Council also recommends:

  • People – mums, dads, and kids included – use sunscreen and wear protective clothing when out and about in the car when UV levels are high (3 or above) – especially if you’re planning on being in the car for a long time.
  • Keep your windows up to ensure the tinting is covering your exposed skin to ensure added protection – use air conditioning if you have it (if not see the point above).
  • As per the above, tints can vary but we recommend a better quality tint if you want to get your own. However, you should also be aware that if you’re planning to get your car windows tinted, there are tinting levels you can’t exceed.

The National Road Traffic Act requires a minimum luminous (light) transmission for certain windows as follows:

  • Windscreen 75%.
  • Driver and passenger front windows 70%.
  • Windows behind the driver’s seat (excluding internal windows) 35%.

These regulations may vary between states and territories.

If you’re planning some road trips this summer (or even if you’re not), remember to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide to protect yourself from skin cancer. You can also download the free SunSmart phone app to check out skin protection times.

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