Sun Protective Clothing

With all the focus on sunscreen every summer, we sometimes forget that an effective sun safety plan also includes sun protective clothing. As your first line of defense against the sun, clothing such as sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, pants and a long-sleeved top effectively work by either blocking or absorbing harmful radiation that can burn and age the skin.

According to the American Skin Cancer Foundation, certain types of clothing and fabrics are better at protecting the skin than others. Ideally, sun protective clothing should incorporate these main features:

  • Long sleeves
  • Long pant legs
  • Tightly woven fabric
  • Dark colors to absorb UV radiation before it reaches the skin
  • Heavy, dense fabrics such as denim

I don’t know about you, but none of those qualities would describe what I normally wear in the summer. Balancing sun protection with the necessity to stay cool is the key to choosing clothes that will best shield us from UV rays.

An option that is growing in popularity is UPF labelled clothing. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and indicates what fraction of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate the fabric. A UPF rating of 50 would indicate that 1/50 th of the sun’s rays would bypass the clothing’s fibres and reach the skin. Naturally, the higher the UPF rating, the more protective the clothing. To put it into perspective, heavy dark denim is rated at 1700, allowing only 1/1700 th of the sun’s rays to reach the skin, whereas a thin white t-shirt, a summertime staple, is rated at only 5. Get that t-shirt wet and the UPF rating falls by half.

If wearing head-to-toe heavy denim is out of the question, the Skin Cancer Foundation suggests other fabric alternatives that you may want to consider:

  • Tightly woven synthetics such as rayon, polyester, nylon and acrylic
  • Glossy, shiny fabrics like satin to reflect UV rays
  • Unbleached cotton which contains special pigments called lignins, that absorb UV
  • Fabrics with bright colors versus pale colors
  • A laundry additive that “washes in” sun protection of up to UPF30

The advantage of UPF clothing is that it is more likely to combine specifically-treated cool, lightweight fabric with a dependable and tested level of sun protection. However, with careful and considered choices, your clothing will go a long way in shielding you from the skin-damaging effects of sun exposure.