Basics of Sun Protection Clothing

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Sun Protective Clothing

Sun protective clothing is gaining momentum each year…and for good reason. Slathering on some lotion is always a good idea, but most people only apply lotion to sun exposed skin and the tub of sun block runs out quickly! The sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate clothing and can be especially detrimental to those with fair, sun-sensitive skin. These days, we’re in luck with countless options of stylish, functional and durable clothing with UPF protection.

Let’s start with the UPF clothing basics. The level of sun protection provided by a piece clothing is measured by the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating. The rating was established in Australia in 1996, but is now used as a standard around the world. UPF measures how much a fabric blocks ultraviolet radiation and can be used in place of or in addition to sunscreen.  All clothing provides some level of protection from the sun, but more advanced protection is measured by a UPF rating of 15 (good) to 50+ (excellent).

Who Should Wear Sun Protective Clothing?

Anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors will have more exposure to the sun and it’s harmful rays. Even if you do not burn easily you are still at risk for skin cancer and advanced aging due to prolonged ultraviolet exposure. Children, adults with fair skin or hair and people at higher elevations are most sensitive to the sun’s rays. Snowboarders, skiers, wakeboarders, and surfers are also at higher risk due to all the time spent on reflective surfaces like snow and water.

Why Should I Choose Sun Protective Clothing?

Unlike sun lotion, sun protection clothing doesn’t wash off or wear out. Even after repeated washes, the UPF rating of sun protection clothing does not diminish. Sun protection clothing is an easy to justify purchase since it provides protection with each wear and doesn’t need to ‘reapplied’ like lotion. Sun protected clothing is a great alternative to those with allergies, but it’s never a bad idea to still apply lotion to sun exposed areas like the hands and face.

What Should I Look for in Sun Protection Clothing?

A UPF rating is the first thing that should catch your eye when shopping for sun protective clothing. The higher the rating, the better the level of sun protection. The clothing can only protect you from ultraviolet rays in the places it is covering, so make sure that you are covered in all highly-exposed areas, like your shoulders and back. Another thing to look for in sun protection clothing is whether or not it is not constrictive. To be useful, sun protective clothing must be suitable for your activity and not hold you back. Since activity under the sun can make you hot and sweaty, most sun protective clothing these days is lightweight and wicks moisture from the body.

How Does Sun Protective Clothing Work?

Density and weight of the materials used in the fabric enable clothing to protect against the sun. The more dense the textile, meaning the fibers are closely woven together, the less light can penetrate the clothing. Keep in mind that older pieces of clothing stretch overtime, so more light will pass through the widened spaces of the fibers. Also, wet fabric’s ability to disrupt UV rays is diminished up to 50%. To put this into perspective, low density textiles, like a cotton t-shirt, only have a UPF rating of 10-12, which diminishes to 5-8 when wet.

Chemical treatments that disrupt UV rays are another popular means of adding sun protection to clothing. Optical brightening laundering additives and newly developed UV-distrupting compounds can increase clothing’s UPF rating.


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