Donna White

The summer heat is back! The following information is intended to help you protect yourself from harmful effects of the sun. We have always known that certain clothing items protect us from the sun more than others. Now there are clothes made specifically with sun protection in mind and products available that can make a normal T-shirt more protective. Thanks to new technologies, we may now start saying slip on “sun-protective clothing,” slap on a hat, and slop on sunscreen.

Clothes can protect your skin from the ultra violet (UV) rays of the sun. Similar to the SPF rating of sunscreen, clothing is given a UPF rating. UPF stands for ultraviolet sun protection factor and tells you how much UV light from the sun is being absorbed. A fabric with a UPF of 50 only allows 1/50th, or 2 percent, of the sun’s rays to pass through the fabric to your skin. The higher the UPF, the more sun-protection it provides.

Color, weave, weight, and fiber type can all affect the amount of sun-protection the item has. Hold it up to the light. If you can see through the item, so can the sun, which means UV light is able to reach and potentially harm your skin through that piece of clothing. Remember, if the shirt is stretched (making it thinner), or wet (making it more transparent), the UPF will go down. When selecting clothes to wear for sun protection, you want to choose clothes that cover the most skin, like long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Dark colors, and a tight weave can provide the most protection.

If you want to buy clothes made for sun protection, more and more companies are manufacturing them. Coolibar(tm), a clothing brand recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation, sells shirts, hats, pants, and swimwear, all offering maximum sun protection. Most shirts on their Web site are long sleeved and range from $29.95 to $59.95 for children to adult sizes. Search the web; you will find many other sites selling similar products, some more expensive than others. Look for a high UPF when ordering.

Another more cost-effective option is to wash sun-protection into your clothes. The only laundry aid endorsed by the Skin Cancer Foundation is Sun Guard(tm) from the makers of RIT(tm) dyes. At about $1.99 a package, you simply add it in along with your detergent to any load of laundry that you want to have sun protection. The chemicals in Sun Guard(tm) wash a UPF of 30 into your clothes without altering their color or comfort, and will last for up to 20 washes.

In addition to using sun protective clothing, you should protect your skin by following these tips:

Stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. Avoid tanning outdoors or in tanning beds. Use a minimum 15 SPF sunscreen everyday. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors; reapply at least every two hours. Keep newborns out of the sun; use sunscreen on children 6 months and older. Examine your skin every month.

Source: Courtney J. Schoessow, Extension Program Specialist-Health, Texas Cooperative Extension, and Meghan Wernicke. July 2007. Texas Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Web site: http://fcs.tamu.edu.