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Why is your baby more exposed in the car to winter UV than you are?

by Natasha Jacquot
Mum looking and smiling down at her baby in car seat with car window covered by bird musluv

With summertime now over, you might be tempted to think that you don't need to worry about your baby and the sun. But autumn and winter sun brings about a different kind of problem.

Sun glare happens when the sun hangs lower in the sky during the cooler seasons and the angle of the light means it enters the car directly through the windows. That's why you will often find yourself squinting in the sun whilst driving. But did you know there is one reason why your baby's eyes and skin are more exposed in the car to UV than yours? 

UV exposure when your baby is in the car

Whilst all glass is good at blocking UVB rays, they don’t block UVA rays very well. UVA rays are the ones that tan the skin and are linked to specific types of eye and skin damage.

Knowing this, car manufacturers “laminate” the front windscreens in cars by bonding a plastic layer between the two panes. This results in most of the UVA rays coming through the windscreen being blocked.  But what about the other car windows?

Unfortunately, these don’t offer nearly the same amount protection as the laminated windscreen, which is why your forearm arm next to the driver’s side window is probably slightly more tanned than your other one. In fact, according to the Cancer Council, as much as 79% of the UVA could be transmitted through these side and rear windows.

“UV exposure can happen at any time of day, in any season or location so it pays to be cautious, whether you’re the driver or passenger. Parents are advised by child safety authorities to install baby and booster seats to the position next to the rear window, so you should also be mindful of the time a child is potentially exposed in the back seat.”
Michael Miller, President of the Window Film Association of Australia and New Zealand

It’s also why your baby is more likely to be exposed to UV in the back seat - not only are the side windows less protective, but the rear windscreen is too. So what can you do to reduce your baby’s extra UV exposure when you are driving in the car?

What are your choices?

You could always try moving your baby’s seat to the middle of the back seat. That way, they are not only in the safest spot in the car (in case you have a side collision), but they are also further away from the side windows and the UV entering in.

But that’s not always an option, if you have a small car or you have more than one child. It’s also a really awkward position for getting your baby in and out of the car, especially if you have just had a c-section. 

If you need to put your baby next to the rear window, you could try getting a film or tint applied to your windows; this can significantly reduce the UVA coming into the car, by up to 99%. This only works when the windows are closed, which could be problematic on a sunny day when you want to open the windows to cool a warm car interior.  You’ll also need to meet the appropriate legal regulations as to how much visibility through the window can be reduced by the film -  these differ on a state-wide basis.

Another alternative is to use a fabric or mesh side window cover. These fit over the car door (or are attached to the window frame) and are removable. The good thing about these types of covers is that, unlike with tinted windows, they often allow the window to be wound down to cool the car, whilst still offering sun protection. But again, the thing to watch out with these is whether they impede your vision of any blind spots.

To avoid the problem of reduced visibility, you could try a canopy sun shade which can be attached around the car seat rather than the window. This should leave a gap between the shade cover and the window through which the driver can see, whilst still protecting your baby and allowing you to open the window. One note of caution - using a car seat canopy which fully encloses the car seat could be dangerous as cars are special environments where heat is trapped very easily.

Which one of these options works best for you?  Do you have any general tips for other parents?

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About Musluv

musluv muslin wrap

I'm Natasha, creator of the musluv sun cover. We are passionate about helping parents protect their babies’ skin, with our musluv muslin wraps and through the content on our blog.

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