Summer is fast approaching and there has been recent controversy about the safety of topical sunscreens. This may be an opportune time to check out alternatives to slathering on sun block and instead gain some protection from the clothes we wear. Sun protective clothing is an option that has been around for over ten years.
Sun protective clothing first became popular in Australia where the incidence of skin cancer is the highest of anyplace in the world, according to coolibar.com, a sun protective clothing company. In response to this alarming statistic, Australia began a campaign in the 1980’s to promote a: Slip, Slop and Slap program. Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat. Australian scientists began studying and experimenting with UV protectiveness of different types of clothing and the development of UV-blocking fabrics and chemicals came out of this research.
Sun protective clothing is rated using UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) instead of SPF as in sunscreens. A UPF rating of 25 allows 1/25 or about four percent of the UV radiation to pass through it, so you are getting 96 percent blocking protection. A UPF rating of 50 allows 1/50 of UV radiation to pass, so you get 98 percent blocking protection. Any thing above 50 is just rated 50+. For comparison, a regular T-shirt is thought to only have a UPF between five and eight which means as much as 20 percent of the sun’s UV radiation can still reach your skin.
The way sun protective clothing works is through a combination of:
● Construction: tight weaves limit the amount of UV light that passes through the fabric.
● Dye: color of the dye. However, only the UPF labeling indicates actual blocking benefit. Black fabric may not be better than a light color.
● Fiber: Polyester or nylon fabric is commonly used.
● Stretch: If the fibers are stretched more than ten percent then more UV light gets through reducing the effectiveness by up to 40 percent.
● Wetness: Wetness may reduce the UPF rating by 30 to 50 percent.
● Added optical brightening agents may be used to boost the UPF.