Sunwear clothing can boost protection from burns
Shaun Hughes never thought skin cancer could happen to him. But it did.
At the age of 26, he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. After undergoing skin-cancer treatment nearly 30 years ago, he remains diligent about practicing better sun protection -- but still wanted to enjoy an outdoor lifestyle.
He became passionate about helping others avoid such a medical scare. After years of research, he started Sun Precautions, a company headquartered in Washington state, which makes clothing with 100 + SPF all-day UVA (ultraviolet A rays) and UVB (ultraviolet B rays) protection. Typical summer shirts provide less than 10 SPF, Hughes says.
His line is called Solumbra. The hats, shirts and pants provide an extra layer of coverage.
"We often think putting sunscreen on is enough," Hughes says. "But it helps to have extra layers in terms of clothing to keep you safe from the sun."
Sun protection offered by clothing can be measured by an SPF (sun protection factor) or UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) value.
Today, sun-protective apparel coms in all kinds of fun colors, prints and patterns. The fabrics are lightweight, but dense enough to keep the sun out.
Laundry detergents, such as Sun Guard, offer a wash-in aid that adds an undetectable coating of UPF 30 to any type of clothing. It claims to last through 20 washes.
Clothing with tight weaves act as a natural filter, says Dr. Suzan Obagi, director of the UPMC Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Health Center, who specializes in dermatology and cosmetic surgery. People should wear long pants, a long-sleeve shirt and a wide-brimmed hat to be fully protected, Obagi says. And you have to re-apply sunblock.
"A regular shirt will protect you as well as any of the apparel that has sun protection," Obagi says, "Now, if you choose a shirt made of lace, then you can still burn."
Skin cancer can happen to anyone, Obagi says.
Published medical studies show most people apply one-third to one-half the recommended dose of sunscreen.
"Doubling up your sun protection by applying sunscreen, and then, covering up with clothing that has been treated to offer UPF protection is a great idea," says Jennifer Goldstein, beauty director for Prevention Magazine. "Although wearing UPF clothing alone offers protection, you're still going to have some exposed skin, so it's wise to wear sunscreen, too."
Untreated fabrics like regular cotton, nylon and polyester do offer some sun protection, but it's less than you would think, says Goldstein, who recommends Solumbra, as well as Columbia, Patagonia, and Coolibar for quality sun-protective clothing.
"All our fabrics are breathable and lightweight, so you can stay protected and play comfortably in the sun no matter what you are doing," says Jennifer Annett, integrated-marketing manager at Coolibar, which combines versatility with 50+ UPF protection. "We try to design clothes for the way people really live."
A hat with a wide brim made of a tightly woven fabric that has at least UPF 30 is needed to shade your face, shoulders, ears and scalp, Goldstein says.
UPF is becoming more important to consumers' concerns about sun exposure, says Jeff Miller, L.L. Bean senior project developer. Lightweight fabrics or those that one would wear in warm, sunny conditions are susceptible to UVA and UVB penetration in varying degrees.
"We have been offering sun-protective clothing ... for at least 20 years," Miller says. "All of our clothing that has a UPF rating has been thoroughly tested, and meets or exceeds the assigned rating."
Women are becoming more health conscious and taking a look at the sun protection in clothing, Hughes says.
"But they also want something that is comfortable, but also looks fashionable," Hughes says. "That is one reason we have the zebra print. Because women still want to be fashionable while protecting their skin from harmful rays."
Types of ultra-violet rays
UVA: Causes premature skin aging, wrinkling and potentially skin cancer. Penetrates skin more deeply than UVB rays. Can impact skin during any hour of daylight. Can penetrate clouds and untreated glass.
UVB: Causes sunburn; also contributes to premature skin aging and potentially to skin cancer. Causes most impact between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Can penetrate clouds, but not glass.
UVC: Deadly to humans. Fortunately, it is absorbed by atmospheric gases before it reaches the Earth's surface.