Pilots face UV exposure similar to tanning beds: study


Photo: OMATUSCANI/iStock/Thinkstock

San Francisco – Airline pilots are exposed to the same amount of ultraviolet rays during a one-hour flight that they would be during 20 minutes in a tanning bed, according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco.

Researchers measured UV radiation in the pilot seat through the acrylic plastic windshield of a general aviation turboprop airplane on the ground and during midday flights in April in San Jose, CA, and Las Vegas. They then compared the UV radiation amounts to those in tanning beds.

Airplane windshields were found to block UV-B (short-wave) radiation but did not completely block UV-A (long-wave) rays, which can cause DNA damage in cells and potentially lead to melanoma. The radiation might be higher when pilots are flying over thick clouds and snow, which reflect UV radiation, according to researchers.

The study concludes that airplane windshields do not provide enough protection and allow UV-A transmission, resulting in potentially increased risk of melanoma. The researchers recommended that pilots and crew members use sunscreen and undergo skin cancer screenings.

The research was published Dec. 17 in JAMA Dermatology.