At this time of year, we get asked all sorts of questions about sun protection. This is unsurprising, given that melanoma rates doubled between 1982 and 2011 and about 90 percent of melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
The first line of defense against UV radiation is actually your clothing. You may already know that SPF stands for sun protection factor and measures how long your sunscreen will protect you from UV rays. You may not be as familiar with the term UPF, which stands for ultraviolet protection factor. UPF indicates how much of the sun’s UV rays are absorbed by the fabric instead of your skin. For example, if a piece of clothing is rated UPF 50, it only allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to pass through it. This means that this fabric will reduce your skin’s UV radiation exposure by 50 times (98% UV block) in areas where the skin is protected by the fabric. The UPF clothing numbers range from 15 to 50+.
And unfortunately, a regular T-shirt won’t really do much for you. In fact, it is estimated that a T-shirt only has an SPF rating of around 7, and if it gets wet its rating drops even further. That is why one of the best ways to protect your skin is to look for UPF-rated clothing, or to use clothing with a tight weave. While technically all clothing can be considered sun-protective if it covers your skin, sun protection clothing is designed to provide more protection.
UPF clothing, sunscreen (SPF 50+, broad spectrum), hats, sunglasses and shade are all essential. But for your next under-the-sun activity, here are five pieces of UPF clothing and accessories to keep you extra protected.
Protective clothing and broad-brimmed hats with a UPF rating are one of the most important steps when it comes to safe sun practices. Great fashionable hats are everywhere these days – try Tilley, Wallaroo, or Columbia to name a few. A 3-inch (7.62 cm) brimmed hat protects not only the face and top of the head, but also the neck, shoulders, and ears. A baseball hat doesn’t protect enough.
For anyone who enjoys outdoor gardening or sports like golfing, running, or biking, the newest trend is UV sleeves, also called solar or sun sleeves. These sleeves allow you to wear a short sleeve shirt to increase air circulation, while keeping your arms protected from UV radiation. Many pro golfers are now wearing these as part of their daily wear. They are comfortable, easy to take off, and a few types have cooling fabric. Columbia, Coolibar, Nike, and many others are available.
Neck gaiters anyone? These are tubes that are generally moisture wicking, breathable and seamless UPF neck tubes that provide the ultimate UPF protection for the face and neck. These are a must for extended outdoor activities, like fishing or biking, that expose the neck and face for long periods where sunscreen may not be as effective.
Gloves aren’t just for winter anymore. Yes friends, there are fingerless and full gloves to also protect your hands from UV damage. Unsightly brown spots as well as skin cancers of all varieties occur on our hands. Why not cover your hands on a long day of golfing, biking or gardening and look like a pro?
When the water is calling your name, try a rashguard, which is the traditional athletic shirt made of spandex and nylon or polyester that surfers wear. The name rash guard reflects the fact that the shirt protects the wearer against rashes caused by abrasion, or by sunburn from extended exposure to the sun. When you wear your rashguard and you are active, playing volleyball, surfing, or splashing in the waves, you’ll appreciate the extra coverage. But remember – you still need sunscreen on all unprotected skin – don’t forget your face, neck and ears, and even the tops of your feet. Again, there are many good and fashionable items available from UV Skinz, Coolibar, Lands’ End, Patagonia, and more – you are bound to find something that works.
 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rates of new melanomas – deadly skin cancers – have doubled over last three decades [Internet]. 2015 June 2
. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2015/p0602-melanoma-cancer.html
 SunGrubbies. SPF vs. UPF – What is the difference? [Internet]. 2018 Feb 10
. Available from: https://www.sungrubbies.com/blogs/news-articles/90201091-spf-vs-upf-what-is-the-difference
 Skin Cancer Foundation. Get in on the Trend [Internet]. 2014 Jan 24 [updated 2016 May 14; cited 2019 Apr 12]. Available from: https://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/clothing/get-in-on-the-trend