Did you know that you can get sunburned through clothing? Clothing can have varying degrees of protection, depending on the fabric used – and some fabrics can leave your skin exposed to harmful UV rays, increasing your risk of skin cancer in later life.
The ‘protectiveness’ of a garment is determined by the UV Protection Factor (UPF) rating system. It’s very similar to the SPF rating system used for sunscreen – UPF50+ is equivalent to wearing SPF50+ sunscreen. Some clothes might only have a UPF of 5, providing minimal protection to your skin from the harsh summer sun.
What are UPF ratings?
UPF measures the amount of UV rays that pass through fabrics when exposed to UV radiation. So, for example, UPF50 allows only 1/50th of UV radiation to pass through a garment – i.e. it blocks out 98% of UV radiation. To help you choose when buying clothing, look for the following UPF ratings – obviously the higher the better!
|15 or 20||Good Protection|
|25, 30 or 35||Very Good Protection|
|40, 50 or 50+||Excellent Protection|
So, which fabrics should you choose?
As a general rule of thumb, the higher the weave; the darker the colour; the heavier the weight; the less stretch; the better.
Specially manufactured sun protection fabrics (such as rash shirt fabrics) are best. In New Zealand, genuine sun protective clothing must be made from fabric that complies with the standard AS/NZS4399:1996. Clothing that meets this standard carries a label stating its UPF rating.
Good fabrics: blue or black denim jeans, merino wool garments, 100% polyester, shiny polyester blends, satin-finish silk of any weight, tightly woven fabrics and unbleached cotton are also good.
Not-so-good fabrics: polyester crepe, bleached cotton, viscose, knits (especially loosely woven), undyed, white denim jeans, and threadbare, holey or worn fabrics.
More sun safety tips
Don’t forget to slip, slop, slap and wrap. While covering up with clothing is a great way to protect your skin from sunburn and skin damage, it’s only part of the picture. Slap on a wide-brimmed hat and wrap your eyes with sunglasses as well - and try to avoid the sun altogether between 10am and 4pm in the daylight savings months.
And remember to apply a 30+ SPF sunscreen before putting on swimwear or clothes to ensure you don’t leave any unprotected skin exposed.
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