Sun-protective clothing doesn’t just refer to a wide-brimmed hat these days. Major activewear brands such as Lululemon, Patagonia, The North Face and Columbia have included lines of clothing that include an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). In the clothing industry, UPF is used as a standard of measurement for the protection that the fabric provides. Unlike sunscreen, your clothing won’t “sweat off” while exercising!
UPF is a ratio of the amount of UV radiation (UVA and UVB) that is measured with and without the fabric. For example, a UPF factor of 50 means that only 2% (1/50) of the rays will reach the skin. The higher the UPF rating, the more effective the sun protection.
The Skin Cancer Foundation states that a fabric must have a UPF of at least 30 to qualify for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. For comparison, a white cotton t-shirt provides only a UPF of 7. If the clothing becomes wet due to sweating or swimming the UPF will decrease even further. “One trick anyone could use”, says Dr. Ivan Litvinov, the Director of Dermatology Research at McGill University, “is to hold up the piece of clothing to the sun. If you cannot see the obvious sun rays coming through the fabric – it will be suitable to provide sun protection when outdoors even if it does not have a UPF label.”
The American Society for Testing and Materials provides the standards shown to the right:
UPF-rated clothing can help protect everyone from the damaging effects of UV radiation. When used with sunscreen, it provides even greater security.
Not all clothes are UPF-rated, but selectively choosing fabrics and textures can still provide adequate protection. Here are some tips to help you find clothes in your closet that may provide better protection in the sun:
Material: Polyester and nylon do a better job at blocking UV light, in comparison to cotton and rayon that have not been specially treated to protect form the sun.
- Colour: Darker colours absorb UV rays, preventing them from reaching your skin.
- Fabric: construction: Tightly constructed and thick materials such as denim are more protective than sheer and loosely woven cloth. If you can see through a material, it won’t do a very good job blocking UV radiation.
- Stretch: Clothing that is stretched reduces the level of protection that is offered while it is being worn and afterwards when it is stretched out. The fibers become looser and more UV radiation is allowed to penetrate.
- Wear: After clothing has been washed and worn many times, it eventually starts to become less effective at blocking UV rays.
Wearing UV-protective clothing and practicing sun safety will allow you enjoy a warm sunny day without the potential health risks. It is best to enjoy outdoors without getting a tan!