Sun Protection: As Easy as Getting Dressed in the Morning

What you wear makes a difference: A review published recently in the journal The Lancet indicates that wearing sun-protective clothing and reducing sun exposure may be more effective than using sunscreen.

Comprehensive Guide to Sun-Protective Clothing

clothingNew York, NY (July 3, 2007) - Recent research shows that clothing may be the most effective way to protect against skin cancer. According to a review published in The Lancet wearing sun protective clothing and reducing sun exposure are more effective than using sunscreens.

"We have always stressed the importance of sun-protective clothing as a key tool in the arsenal against UV damage," said Perry Robins, MD, President of The Skin Cancer Foundation. "It is a simple and obvious sun protection method that seems to be gaining in popularity."

Ultraviolet Protection Factor

Just like sunscreen, the sun protectiveness of clothing can be evaluated and rated with a measuring system called Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). UPF is a similar concept to SPF, however UPF rates both UVA and UVB protection, whereas SPF only rates UVB protection. In 1996, the term UPF was devised in Australia as a measure of how much UV penetrates a fabric.

UPF is determined by using a UV transmittance analyzer to gauge the spectral transmission of UVB and UVA through a fabric. If a fabric is rated UPF 30, then it is absorbing or blocking 29 out of 30 units of UVR, or 97 percent of UVR. This is the same level of protection provided by an SPF 30 sunscreen that is used properly. To achieve a UPF, a fabric must undergo 40 simulated launderings, be exposed to the equivalent of 2 years of light exposure and be tested with chlorinated water if it is intended for swimsuits.

Specially Made Sun Protective Clothing

Today, many manufacturers offer special UV-absorbing clothes, from swimsuits and shirts, to hats and pants. This clothing will usually have a high UPF rating, indicating how much UVR it absorbs. These clothes have special weaves, and are treated with UV-absorbing chemicals, such as titanium dioxide. To be deemed sun-protective, such clothing must have a UPF of more than 30 and retain its sun-protective qualities after numerous washings and exposure to sunlight.

The Skin Cancer Foundation awards its Seal of Recommendation to clothing. The Seal of Recommendation is awarded to ensure that a UV protection product is safe and effective. The Foundation's Seal of Recommendation standard for clothing verifies that UPF of 30 provides "very good protection" and a UPF of 50 provides "excellent protection." Click Here to shop for t-shirts and hats at the Skin Cancer Foundation store.

Not all Clothing is Created Equal

Even if they are not specially made to provide sun protection, all clothing offers some degree of shelter from the sun. Fabrics are porous materials constructed from a wide variety of fibers and fiber blends. This makes finding good sun-protective qualities tricky, because both UVB and UVA can penetrate fabrics. Choosing a fabric with a tighter weave that will allow less UV to come in contact with the skin is of the utmost importance. You can tell if a fabric is woven tightly by using the "hole effect": hold a particular fabric up to a window or light. The less light you can see, the better the protection.

Washing your clothing can be a good way to increase the UPF in your clothing. The shrinking that occurs during the first wash makes the weave tighter and decreases the "hole effect" therefore making you less susceptible to the sun's rays. Laundry additives such as SunGuard can also be used to increase the sun-protectiveness of clothing. These additives contain the sunscreen ingredient Tinosorb FD which washes sun-protection into the clothing.

While construction or weave are the most important factors when choosing sun-protective clothing, there are other properties that also affect sun-protection. The thickness and weight of a fabric can be good ways to measure a material's sun-protective qualities. For example, thick, heavy fabrics such as denim can offer a UPF of more than 1,700 which is the best protection available.

How much a fabric stretches is also important. When a fabric stretches, the weave becomes looser and the UPF decreases. For example, the shoulders of a shirt are under greater tension than that of the rest of the shirt and stretch further. This can lead to a lower UPF for this part of the garment. This factor also comes into play when fabrics get wet. A typical white summer cotton T-shirt offers a UPF of 5 to 9, but its UPF decreases to only 3 to 4 when the fabric gets wet.

When selecting fabric colors, the darker the better. Many dyes absorb some UV penetration, which is why darker colors, and some bright colors such as orange and red, have higher UPF ratings. Pale and pastel colors have lower ratings. A piece of pale yellow cotton fabric typically has a UPF of 5 to 9, while the same fabric dyed black has a UPF of 32.

Fabrics such as polyester and wool offer a higher UPF than cotton and linen. Polyester blends also have a high UPF and are good for warmer days when polyester may not be comfortable. Selecting a loose shirt can also increase the sun-protective qualities of clothing because the more distance there is between the clothing and the skin, the more UV light is diffused.

Sun-Protective Clothing Checklist

*Tightly woven and dark or bright colors offer better protection than pale or pastel colored, loosely woven clothes.
*Thicker, heavier fabrics offer higher UPFs.
*The closer the fabric is to the skin the less sun protection it offers.
*Generally, if you can see the sun through a fabric, it does not offer a very high UPF.

Remember to be mindful of time spent in the sun, make sure to use an SPF 15 sunscreen or higher every day and follow The Skin Cancer Foundation's other prevention tips at or call 1-800-SKIN-490.

The first organization in the U.S. that committed itself to educating the public and medical professionals about sun safety, The Skin Cancer Foundation is still the only global organization solely devoted to the prevention, detection and treatment of skin cancer. The mission of the Foundation is to decrease the incidence of skin cancer through public and professional education and research.