Sun Protective Clothing – The Basics

Sun Protective Clothing – The Basics

Sunlight is made up of both visible light and a damaging form of radiation called ultraviolet (UV) light.  It is this UV light that causes premature aging, skin immune suppression and skin cancer.  Protecting your skin from the damaging effects of UV light will help decrease your risk of developing these unwanted consequences. 

There are several ways to decrease UV damage to your skin.  Sun avoidance is the first line of defense.  Minimizing sun exposure by seeking shade during the mid-day or by planning outdoor activities in the early morning or just before sunset will decrease your exposure.  Sunscreen is another effective way to decrease the amount of UV light that damages your skin, but it needs to be applied thoroughly and at least every 2 hours to remain effective.  The higher the SPF you apply, the better.

Sun protective clothing, on the other hand, allows the user to protect one’s skin any time of day and never sweats off and can’t rub off.  As long as you are wearing sun protective clothing, it will remain effective.  The Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is the clothing equivalent of sunscreen’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF).  The higher the UPF number, the more shielding from ultraviolet light.  The most effective sun protective clothing has a UPF rating of 50+.  That means that 1/50th of the sun’s UV rays penetrate through the fabric.

Synthetic fabrics block UV light better than cotton.  For example, Uvida clothing is UPF 50+ while a thin white cotton T-shirt has a UPF of approximately 5, and that UPF goes even lower when wet.  Long sleeves are better than short sleeves.  If the sleeves are long enough that the fabric covers the back of the hands to some degree, that allows the person to minimize sun exposure to their hands without using sunscreen.

Manufacturers use Weave Density (also known as Cover Factor) as a measure of how much of the fabric is actually the fiber of the clothing and how much is the open space between fibers.  It is these open spaces where UV light can penetrate. 

Regular clothing can have a high UPF rating.  A pair of jeans or a heavy winter coat also do a great job of blocking UV light, but they are not practical on warm, sunny days.  We never seem to see people playing tennis in a jean jacket or a ski jacket!  The best sun protective clothing is designed to block UV light, but also allow for the person to perspire and be cooled.  Be aware that not all brands are created equally.  Some high UPF fabrics do a great job blocking UV, but hold in heat and add to perspiration.  The best products allow you to be active and comfortable at the same time. 

Try Uvida clothing!  It meets the criteria for great sun protection, and provides a comfortable fit with style.

Michael J. Huether, M.D.

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