When it comes to sun care products, sunscreen clothing is often overlooked. Although no substitute for a good quality sunscreen, it provides a valuable extra line of defense. It is one of the easiest ways to keep you and your family protected.
Sunscreen clothing that has been made with material that contains a measurable ultraviolet protection factor is becoming more popular in recent times as we are all persuaded that the sun's UV rays are harmful to our health. It is also referred to as 'SPF clothing' or 'UV protective clothing'.
Organizations such as the Skin Cancer Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the Skin Cancer Foundation of Australia and the American Academy of Dermatology are among the many organizations that recommend sun protective wear as an additional sun protection measure.
Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is a measurement that represents the amount of Ultra Violet A (UVA) or Ultra Violet B (UVB) radiation that can penetrate a fabric and reach the skin.
This is in contrast to the Sun (or Solar) Protection Factor (SPF), which measures the time that it takes for UVB rays to cause the skin to redden. This factor is intended for use by an individual to calculate how much time they would be able to have in the sun before they started to burn. eg. If you take 20 minutes to burn without any sunscreen, then an SPF of 15 would increase that time to 20 x 15 = 300 minutes, or 5 hours.
So, the SPF is used to translate protection time for the skin, while UPF provides the rating for sunscreen clothing, with no consideration for the length of time of exposure.
In 2000 the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) published new U.S. standards for the preparation and labeling of garments protecting people from both UVA and UVB radiation:
Sun protection clothing is understandably centered around those activities where people spend a large amount of time outdoors and therefore see the benefit of investing in these specific clothes. Typically this is split into the following outdoor categories:
Some sunscreen clothing can be used for protection indoors, where the sun's UVA rays will penetrate through glass, eg while driving a car, sitting on a train, or working indoors but sitting in the sun beaming through a window.
The best choice of fabric relevant to the specific activities and your needs will depend on the cut or weave of the cloth and even the color. Tight weaves like muslins and twills are best for high protection as well as the lighter colors.
Manufacturers test and individually label each sun protective clothing item with an ultraviolet protection factor. They usually specifically label each garment with their relevant UPF 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 or 50+ (the highest rating label being 50+). Depending on your specific activity, you can select one that is relevant.
Specific fabrics are chosen for specific garments, taking into account the activity it is intended for. Examples are:
Fabrics are enhanced with a UV diffuser that is mostly titanium dioxide. Other qualities may be required of the fabric, eg. the fabric must be able to breathe, or be extremely durable.
As a base for comparison purposes, wearing a regular cotton T-shirt is equivalent to having a sunscreen with SPF 5 on your skin. In general, sunscreen clothing aims to provide for higher levels of protection, as well as a more sophisticated fabric.