Sunscreen is just one part of practicing good sun safety. One other important part is the clothing you wear when outdoors. However, all clothes are not created equal when it comes to sun protection. While most fabrics disrupt UV radiation to some degree, it’s important to understand the differences in order to make good clothing choices for when you’ll be outside for extended periods of time.
There are a several factors that determine how effective your clothes are in protecting you from sun damage. A tightly woven fabric such as cotton makes it difficult for UV rays to reach your skin; stretching the material can lower its protective properties. Unless you have fair skin that burns easily or you spend a lot of time outside, wearing ordinary clothing will provide you with adequate protection for the covered skin. But the color of that clothing does matter – darker colors are better for sun protection, while lighter shades, especially white, can still let in some UV rays even through clothing.
If you are at high risk for sunburn, or planning to spend a lot of time near the equator or in high elevations where the sun’s rays are strongest, you can purchase clothing that is designed specifically to act as a barrier to UV rays. These clothes, known as UPF or sun protective clothing, are created using dense, tightly woven fabric to minimize the amount of rays that can pass through. Their effectiveness also depends on the dyes used in the clothing; some types and concentrations deflect more rays than others. Pigment-dyed fabrics that include a resin have a high protection rating. Similar to the SPF rating on sunscreen, clothing has a UPF – Ultraviolet Protection Rating – that indicates how effectively it shields skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Choose a rating of 50+, which means that only 1/50th (approximately 2 percent) of UV rays pass through the fabric and reach your skin.
Sun protective clothing is also an especially handy option for kids – specifically if you’ve got kids that balk at repeated applications of sunscreen. Swim shirts add a level of protection for a day at the beach or the pool. Kids also enjoy wearing fun hats and sunglasses – just don’t tell them it’s for their own safety!