How to Choose Sun Protection (UPF) Clothing

sun's rays emanating from cloud cover in hues of gold, orange and yellow.

Sunlight has a magical way of lifting our spirits. It energizes us - elevating our endorphins, helps us sleep better at night and can even improve our immune functioning. Yet if we lose sight of its awesome power we can seriously damage our skin and our health.

That's because sun damage (premature wrinkles, dark spots and worse) is cumulative — the more sunburns you get over a lifetime increases your risk of skin cancer which is the most common type of cancer in the world. It is preventable with proper daily habits.

Often we think to wear UV protective clothing solely for those days at the beach, sporting events or outdoor hikes. It’s important to note that every day sun protection clothing is needed - every time you go outside for a walk, to run errands, get in the car, attend an outdoor wedding or happy hour, etc - try to wear sun protection clothing.

Otherwise you are contributing to your risk of developing skin cancer as well as developing premature wrinkles and dark spots.

Sun 101: UVA and UVB

  • The sun’s rays include ultraviolet (UVA + UVB) radiation which reach the earth's surface year round.
  • UVA rays cause premature skin aging - they break down skin’s collagen and are responsible for wrinkles and melasma (discolored spots on your skin).
  • UVB rays penetrate the outermost layers of skin causing suntans, sunburns and blistering.
  • While UVA rays cause premature skin aging, both UVA and UVB rays contribute to the development of skin cancer.

Dermatologists recommend wearing sun protection clothing as the gold standard for protecting your skin and managing your cumulative level of UV exposure.

- All skin tones benefit from wearing sun protection. All skin needs to be sun protected.

From the American Academy of Dermatology Association, "No matter your age, gender or race, this PSA video, “Do You Use Protection?” reminds you about the importance of protecting your skin anytime you’re outdoors.

- Best practice is to wear sun protection clothing daily.

Not just when we go to the beach, a sporting event or do an outdoor activity such as hiking. 

- Sun protective clothing is labeled with a UPF rating which indicates the fabric has been evaluated, lab tested and reflects its true UV protection level.

- Wearing UPF clothing is a year round endeavor not just for warm, sunny days.
Did you know 80% of the sun's UV rays can pass through clouds? The sun's rays reflect off water, snow and any wet or rainy surfaces - they're present year round during all seasons, not just during summer months when the sun is shining brilliantly.

- Up to 90% of visible signs of aging is linked to sun exposure according to skincancer.org

    Wearing UPF clothing daily is the best first line of defense for sun protection.

    Daily sunscreen definitely helps - just note that for sunscreen to be effective it needs to be applied liberally, wait 20 minutes before going outside, and reapplied every two hours to all exposed areas of the skin.

    Here's a brief explanation of SPF vs, UPF. (sometimes sun protection clothing is referred to as SPF clothing - this adds to confusion about these terms.)

    SPF stands for sun protection factor and this is the rating system used for sunscreen. An SPF rating measures the amount of time it takes for exposed skin to burn from UVB rays — if sunscreen is applied liberally and reapplied every two hours. The SPF rating does not measure UVA rays.

    - SPF sunscreen ratings refer only to UVB rays.

    - Sunscreen labeled "broad spectrum" protects skin from UVA and UVB rays. If the label does note denote "broad spectrum", it only protects from UVB rays. It's a little confusing.

    - There are two types of sunscreen: physical (creates barrier on top of skin) and chemical (must absorb into skin first)

    Our recommendations for sunscreen:

    • We advocate for physical sunscreen use rather than chemical.
    • It is believed residual amounts of chemical sunscreen remain in your body and build up over time.
    • It is known that chemical sunscreen ingredients are disrupting the environment, our waterways and eco-systems.
    • We suggest sunscreen with 30+ SPF, but even 15 SPF is better than nothing. Apply liberally then reapply every two hours. Don't forget to wait 20 minutes for the sunscreen to soak into your skin before going outside.
    • Look for sunscreen labeled with words: physical, broad spectrum and reef safe sunscreen.

     UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor and is the system used for apparel - clothing, hats and fabric. Sun protection apparel should be labeled with UPF ratings.

    The UPF number represents the amount of UV radiation that can penetrate fabric and reach your skin.

    For example, a UPF clothing rating of 50 means 98% of UV rays are absorbed by the fabric before they reach your skin. In other words, about 1/50th of the sun's harmful rays can penetrate UPF 50 fabric and reach the skin.

    Chart showing UPF ratings, protection level and blocking percentages
    •  A UPF rating of 30-49 offers very good protection.
    • A UPF 50+ rating is excellent. 
    • Fabric rated UPF 50+ allows less than 2% UV transmission, blocking more than 98% of harmful UV rays.

    For more explanation including a few handy charts about the differences between UPF and SPF, click here.

    Next, it’s important to understand the differing qualities of sun protection clothing. 

    Not all sun protection clothing is equal. Many new fabrics provide high-tech protection, breathability and comfort while others provide a topical sun protection treatment which washes out or wears off over time.

    Here’s what we consider when evaluating fabric for sun protective qualities:

    Construction of the fabric

    The density of the weave matters. Fabrics like denim, canvas, wool, polyester and polyamide (nylon) offer better sun protection than sheer fabrics.

    Color

    Dark or bright, vibrant colors absorb more UV rays and keep the sun’s radiation from reaching your skin.

    Chemical treatment

    Often chemicals UV filters are added topically to fabric to absorb UV rays. This occurs during the fabric finishing process to enhance UPF effectiveness.  These treatments are topical and tend to wash out over multiple washings. Garments made with fabric treated with chemical UV filters lose their UPF effectiveness over time as the chemicals fade, wear down or wash out.

    Some brands like ours select sun protection fabric certified free of harmful chemicals. This is called OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certification and means the fabric has been tested and doesn't have any residual chemicals that will harm your skin, disrupt your body, or leach chemicals into the environment or waterways.

    Fiber content

    Polyester and Nylon (polyamide) are excellent UV light disruptors. Wool, silk and unbleached cotton have low to moderate effects. A cotton t-shirt has little to no sun protection.

    Permanency

    Fabrics woven with TO2 - the same ingredient found in sunscreens - retain their UPF sun protection qualities and are considered permanent and inherent to the fabric and do not wash out. 

    Any garment with fabric that shows signs of being worn down from use should be replaced. Garments made with inherent sun protection woven in to fabric will stay effective significantly longer than chemically treated UPF clothing - usually for the lifetime of the garment or until the fabric wears out.

    We use fabrics with permanent sun protective qualities, inherently woven in to the fabric. To read more about our design and fabric standards, click here.

    What to look for in UPF clothing.

    Fit

    Your sun protection clothing should feel comfortable. If it’s too tight and stretches too much it may reduce the sun protection rating. More importantly, a good comfortable fit ensures you’ll wear your clothing for longer periods of time. Ideally your sun protection clothing should feel comfortable like any garment you’d wear daily. Fabric that is breathable or has a loose fit allows for air circulation further enhancing your comfort.

    Features

    Design features like flip-up collars to protect the neck from the sun, and long cuffs or extended coverage to protect the backs of the hand is ideal. The more options you have for skin coverage the better you stay sun protected. It’s helpful if these features are options on your clothing - so when you’re inside you can open or flip down the collar or easily remove your hands from cuffs. Some people prefer fingerless options to access their phones while others prefer fully fingered gloves. Sun protection accessories such as these UV arm sleeves and sun gloves are popular, easy ways to protect your arms and back of hands daily. 

    Check the tag to see if the garment is labeled
    • UV protective with a UPF rating - ideally UPF 30-50+
    • Quick drying for ease of use
    • Breathable to allow air circulation
    • 4-way stretch for shape retention
    • All season or thermo-regulated (optional) to keep warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather

    An appealing design aesthetic is not necessary, but a nice to have. Look for designs to wear on the street.
    A streetwear look - excellent sun protection that doesn't look out of place when you're off the beach, bicycle or pitch - makes it easier to make wearing sun protection clothing a lifestyle choice. Look for fabric face masks made of UPF 50+ sun protective fabric - some designs will cover the sides of your face, cheekbones and jawline like these UV masks.

    Staying fully sun protected is a layered, multi-faceted approach:

    1. Wear sun protection clothing with inherent UPF properties.

    For areas protected with UPF 50+ clothing, you won't need to worry about reapplying sunscreen. (This is why it’s considered the gold standard by dermatologists.)

    2. Apply sun screen rated 30SPF or higher, liberally on all exposed skin.
    (However you must remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours.

    3. Wear UV filtering sunglasses to protect your eyes.

    4. Wear a hat with a broad brim to protect your nose, ears, back of neck, scalp and sides of face.

    5. Seek shade whenever possible.

    Be aware of the UV Index - and monitor the amount of time you’re exposed to UV radiation during peak daylight hours, at higher altitudes and around reflective surfaces like water and snow.

    The best sun protection clothing is what you’d like to wear most often - every day streetwear if possible.

    Look for UPF clothing that suits your style and your daily wardrobe in colors you wear often. This makes it easier to incorporate into your daily outfit which increases the frequency you use it.

    Moderation is key to keeping your skin healthy so just remember that the sun’s rays reach the earth’s surface every day - not just on sunny, warm days.

    Not just at the beach or during summer time.

    Ultraviolet rays from the sun are present year-round and can filter through dark cloud coverage and reach your skin.

    That means protect your skin on cloudy, overcast days, and at higher elevations including snowy conditions, on the water or rainy surfaces because the sun’s rays reflect.

    We leave you with three recommendations.

    • Select UPF clothing you enjoy wearing and make it part of your daily wardrobe.
    • Wear a broad spectrum, physical sunscreen your skin likes (!) every day on exposed skin including your face, eyelids, ears, back of neck and back of hands.
    • Look for sun protection clothing to help protect your neck, ears and back of hands if you prefer to wear less sunscreen every day.
    • Try to make wearing UPF clothing part of your every day lifestyle.

    Stay healthy, #wearUPF and keep your skin glowing!

    #getheligirl 

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