It can’t be said enough: the primary environmental factor that causes human skin aging is the sun. And even if you’re not concerned about aging now, consider this: sun exposure is cumulative over time. The skin doesn’t forget how much sun you’ve gotten, and it shows.
So why sun-protective clothing and not just sunscreen?
According to Dr. Leslie Baumann, director of Cosmetic Dermatology at the University of Miami, patients usually only achieve an SPF of one-third the number on the bottle, as they apply the product much more thinly than in the lab where the SPF is quantified. Add that in with the fact that very few wait the thirty minutes necessary before sun exposure for the product to be effective. And then add in the fact that few people know medications like ibuprofen, doxycycline (prescribed for Lyme disease), and Ortho-Tri Cyclen increase photosensitivity, and you have a definite need for additional sun precautions.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends additional forms of sun protection, such as avoiding the sun between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M., when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Sun-protective window shields and clothing are also advised by many experts. A reader who works as a PR for sun-protective clothing recently informed me of three excellent places online to buy sun-protective clothing: Alex and Me Co. (for men, women, and children), Solar Eclipse (also for men, women, and children), and MaxOUT Swimwear Co. (for children’s swimwear). All three sell quality sun-protective clothing.
How do I measure the effectiveness of these products?
The effectiveness of ultraviolet protective clothing is measured by Ultraviolet Protection Factor, or UPF. Unlike SPF, which quantifies only UVB protection, UPF incorporates both UVA and UVB (broad-spectrum) protection.
In general, according to Baumann, a UPF of 10 equals protection of about SPF 30. All of the children’s swimwear designs from MaxOUT Swimwear have a UPF of 50+ (the highest UPF designation), which allows less than 2% of UVA/UVB through the swimsuit. All products from Solar Eclipse currently seem to be UPF 50+ as well, and Alex and Me Co. features clothing that ranges from a tank top with UPF 25+ (an SPF of about 75) to UPF 50+.
But doesn’t UPF wash out of clothing?
According to Baumann, UPF actually increases with the washing of the UPF protective clothing [to a certain reasonable extent], because the clothing shrinks and becomes more tight-knit. An additional way to increase the UPF of cotton clothing is by washing with Tinosorb (available from Europe), which has a disulfonic acid triazine backbone that enables it to bind to cotton fabrics.
Don’t all clothes have some sun protective function?
Yes, but not normally to the extent of clothes designed for sun protective purposes. In a 2000 study cited by Edlich et. al of 236 common fabrics in clothing, 33% of fabrics issue a UPF of less than 15, 19% issue a UPF between 15 and 30, and 48% (including wool, polyester, and fabric blends) issue a UPF of 30 or greater. Cotton, linen, and viscose blends were demonstrated to have UPF values less than 30 in 70% of cases.
So, should I buy sun-protective clothing?
Absolutely. Some of my personal favorites are Alex and Me Co.’s Hooded Cover Up ($71.99, AlexAndMe.com) which provides a UPF of 50+ and looks like a regular jacket; MaxOUT Swimwear’s Strawberry Fields infant/toddler 1-piece (see above, $42.00, MaxOUTSwimwear.com) which provides an SPF of 50+ and looks soooo adorable; and SolarEclipse’s Adult Sunstopper in White/Navy ($74.00, SolarEclipse.com). There is also the San Diego hat (top of page, $42.99, AlexAndMe.com), which I happen to own, wear, and adore. Overall, sun-protective clothing is an excellent investment for the future of your skin’s health and appearance.
For more information on Sun Protective Clothing
- What Are the Different Types of Sunscreen? As described by Dr. Leslie Baumann in Cosmetic Dermatology, there are two different categories of sunscreens: physical sunscreens, which scatter or reflect UV radiation, and chemical sunscreens, which absorb UV radiation and then dissipate the radiation as either heat or light, usually of longer wavelength that does not…
- As someone with very fair skin, sun protection has always been a primary concern for my family and me — even if that meant sacrificing style for blockage. I recall once being outfitted in a particularly unfortunate hat with neck flap for a picnic. At the time, it felt like a sartorial injustice, but as…
- Clothes Protect You Less than You Think There’s actually a word to describe how well clothes block UV radiation. Ultraviolet Protection Factor or UPF is the “SPF” of clothing. It’s used to describe the fraction of sun’s rays that can get through your threads. (Below is the ARPANSA’s breakdown of UPF and UV-blockage.) The average plain white…