Fall is here, but on a clear day in the western United States the sun can
seem almost as hot as it did a couple of months ago – and it certainly
isn’t any less harmful. To help you fight the burning rays, many
companies are now designing clothing specifically for sun protection.
Lisa Gorman, RN, director of worksite wellness at
St. Joseph Health, explains how sun-protective clothing works and helps you understand why
you should care about it.
The sun damages your skin in several ways, Gorman says. “The ultraviolet
radiation (UVR) emitted by the sun is a proven cause of skin cancer, and
it causes more than ninety percent of the visible changes to your skin
commonly associated with aging. Sun damage accumulates over your lifetime,
so everything you do to prevent UVR damage now will keep your skin healthier
and looking good longer.”
Some people are naturally more sensitive to the sun and have a greater
need for protective clothing.
“It’s more important for children and people with fair skin
to wear clothing that disrupts UVR,” Gorman says. “It’s
also advisable for people who live or spend long periods of time outdoors,
at high elevation, or on surfaces that reflect the sun, like snow or water.
For people with medium to darker skin, ordinary clothing is usually adequate
to protect covered areas, but it wouldn’t hurt to give sun-protective
clothing a try. You may find it to be lighter and more comfortable than
Your clothes are the first line of defense against UVR, but not all clothing
does a good job of preventing the radiation from reaching your skin. “Many
people come home from the beach to find they have been sunburned through
their T-shirt,” Gorman says. “This happens because a regular
cotton tee gets stretched out when it gets wet, pulling the weave apart
and allowing the sun’s rays to penetrate through the miniscule gaps
between the threads. Tightly woven fabrics have smaller gaps, so less
radiation gets through. That’s why people don’t get sunburned
through their jeans.”
Sun-protective clothing aims to beat UVR through advances in fabric manufacture
and weaving technique. It is made with highly elastic synthetic fibers
that pull the fabric together tightly, and sometimes a shiny finish or
dye is used to reflect more UVR than a matte-finish fabric. There may
be double layers around areas that get a lot of sun, like the shoulders.
It may also be infused with chemical sunblock or nanoparticles of titanium
dioxide that provide UV protection even when wet.
The result is a garment with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating,
which tells you how much UVR passes through the fabric: for example, a
UPF of 20 means 1/20th (or 5 percent) gets through. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a UPF
of at least 30. In contrast, a basic cotton T-shirt has a UPF of around
5, which means that around 1/5th (or 20 percent) of the sun’s radiation penetrates.
But wearing special clothing doesn’t mean you can be lax about sunscreen.
“If you already are in the habit of wearing sunscreen when you go
out, you should continue to do so, even under protective clothing. And
everyone still needs to put sunscreen on the parts of their skin that
aren’t covered,” Gorman says.
Clothing—sun-protective or not--may shield skin more effectively
than sunscreen if you aren’t using sunscreen the right way, Gorman says.
“If you put it on too thin, if you don’t put it on in an even
layer, or if you don’t reapply it often enough, you’re won’t
be getting the full benefit of the sunscreen’s SPF. Don’t
cheat your skin; apply sunscreen liberally and reapply it frequently.”
Learn more about
Lisa Gorman, RN. Learn more about
St. Joseph Health.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.