Preventative Tips, Sun Safety, Wellbeing

Reducing skin cancer risk through sun protective clothing

Why sun protective clothing should be part of your wardrobe

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Team MoleMap Creator
Posted 07/04/20
Reducing skin cancer risk through sun protective clothing

This feature is brought to you by Solbari - specialists in UPF clothing

We all know to slap on the sunscreen and slip on a hat and clothing whenever we’re out in Australia’s harsh sun, but did you know that at least 20% of UV rays can still penetrate through many fabrics? In fact, research shows that ordinary, non-sun protective clothing may be equivalent to wearing just SPF5 sunscreen1.

Which means, even when you think you’re covering up, your skin may still be getting damaged - which in turn can increase your risk of getting melanoma or other types of skin cancer. That’s a huge concern when Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world – and two out of three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.2

Read on to find out what type of sun protective clothing is best, what UPF and/or SPF rated clothing gives you the best coverage, and which pieces you should consider investing in to protect the skin you’re in.

Sun hats can help prevent skin ageing

Above: Sun hats and sun smart clothing are the best defense to help prevent skin damage.

How does sun protective clothing help prevent skin cancer?

Around 90% of skin cancers result from over-exposure to the sun1, so medical experts recommend high UPF sun protective clothing and wide-brimmed sun hats as the best defense to help prevent skin ageing, skin cancer and melanoma.

While mineral and chemical sunscreens can be an effective way to protect your skin from harmful UV radiation – and they’re certainly far better than wearing no protection – they’re not nearly as effective as wearing UV protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses or better yet, staying in the shade.

In fact, new Australian sunscreen guidelines recommend that you wear both: apply sunscreen every day that the UV Index is above 3 – AND cover up with long-sleeved, tightly woven or high UPF clothing when you’re in the sun.

Wear sun protective clothing

Above: Sun protective clothing should block at least 98% of UV radiation.

What does UPF mean?

A Unique Protection Factor (UPF) rating is used to measure how much UV radiation penetrates a fabric. Specialist sun protection clothing should have a UPF rating of 50+, which is the highest sun protective rating available – and means that at least 98% of UV radiation is blocked.

To be effective, UV protective clothing and sun hats should provide excellent skin coverage and utilise fabrics that are lightweight and breathable, so that they’re comfortable to wear in hot, sunny conditions.

For example, Solbari is an award-winning, Australian brand of specialised sun protective clothing. They offer a range of high quality, breathable, sun smart clothing and accessories, which includes UPF50+ sun protective clothing, sun hats, accessories and SPF50+ sunscreens.

People with fair skin are at high risk of getting melanoma

Above: If you’re fair skinner, you have a higher risk of getting melanoma.

Who should wear high UPF clothing – and when?

While it’s obvious that those with a fair, pale or freckled complexion and red or blond hair are considered to be most at risk, anyone can get melanoma or other skin cancers – even those with olive or darker skins. If your skin is regularly exposed to the sun or sunbeds, you’ve been sunburnt, or you have a personal or family history of skin cancer, you also have an increased risk (check your skin cancer risk.

Wearing sun safe clothing is recommended for anyone who is likely to be out in the sun for any length of time, especially between the hours of 10am and 4pm during the summer months. It’s very popular with athletes, golfers, boaties, farmers, and others who work or play in the sun regularly – and for anyone who wants to protect their delicate skin from the sun’s damaging rays.

What’s more, sun protective clothing is the easiest way to stay safe in the sun - unlike sunscreen, you never need to reapply! But remember that no matter how careful you are in the sun, it’s a good idea to back that up with an expert skin check every year.

What’s trending now in high-UPF clothing?

“We’ve seen a surge in our UPF50+ shirts for men this summer. We know it is down to the technical features of the shirt being breathable, anti-odour and containing functional pockets,” says Johanna Young, Solbari Co-founder and CEO. “For women, it has to be UPF50+ Luxe Sun Wrap which provides great coverage and our UPF50+ driving gloves.”

Sun protective clothes

Above - From left to right : Outback Shirt UPF50+, Blue / Beige, AUD $100, Utility Shirt UPF50+, Blue, AUD $110, Luxe Sun Wrap UPF50+ Sensitive Collection, Light Grey Marle, AUD $110, Driving Gloves UPF50+ Sun Protection, Navy, AUD$:70

Which pieces of sun protection clothing should I invest in?

“We invest a lot of time into R&D and creating innovative lightweight and breathable fabrics with the highest sun protective rating in the world for fabrics of UPF50+,” says Johanna. “Our collections are created to suit individuals who want to live their life outdoors safely in the sun, with our women's wanderlust visor and our long sleeve UPF50+ polos for men and women being amongst some of our key investment pieces.”

Sun protective clothing to wear

Above - from left to right: Wanderlust Visor UPF50+, Navy / Beige, AUD $60, Long Sleeve Polo Shirt UPF50+, Navy, AUD $100, Long Sleeve Maxi Dress UPF50+, Sensitive Collection, Navy, AUD $150, Loose Fit Long Sleeve Swing Top UPF 50+ Sensitive Collection, Light Grey Marle, AUD $90, New Product: Resort Sun Hat: Dusty Pink / Tan / Navy / Beige, AUD $70

Can regular clothing protect you from the sun

Above: Layering your clothing is also a good way to increase your UV protection.

Does regular clothing protect you from the sun?

Yes it does, to a certain extent. The more densely woven the fabric, such as denim, canvas, wool or synthetic fibers, the more protective it is3. Tightly woven, lightweight, natural fabrics such as linen, cotton and hemp offer a good level of protection – and they’ll keep you cooler than synthetic fibres. Layering your clothing is also a good way to increase your UV protection.

Sheer, thin or loosely woven fabrics might be cooler on a hot summer’s day, but remember, if you can see through a fabric, chances are the sun can see you! UV radiation can easily penetrate sheer fabrics and burn your skin. Old, threadbare or faded clothes may also offer reduced protection.

High UPF sun protective clothing is your best best, as it’s specifically designed for greater protection in the sun, with a tight weave, good coverage, and a range of fabrics for ultra-sensitive skins.

Does dark clothing protect you from the sun

Above: Dark or bright colours offer better protection than lighter shades

Does dark clothing protect you from the sun?

Yes it does. Dark or bright colours offer better protection than lighter shades as they absorb UV rays, rather than allowing them to penetrate through the fabric to you skin. On the downside, because they absorb the sun’s rays, some darker fabrics can prove too hot to wear on a scorching summer’s day.

Instead, choose specialist UV protective clothing like Solbari’s range of high UPF clothing as it’s designed to be lightweight, breathable, moisture wicking and even anti-odour, regardless of the colour.

Is loose fitting clothing good for sun protection

Above: Loose fitting clothing will keep you cooler in the heat.

Is loose-fitting clothing good for sun protection?

Yes, loose-fitting apparel is best – plus it keeps you cooler in the heat as it allows air to circulate. Tight clothing may seem like a better bet, but it can stretch and reduce the level of protection offered, as the fibres can pull away from each other and let more UV light through.

And remember that, no matter how high the UPF, if your clothing get wet or stretched, it will become more transparent and expose your skin to more light. For example, a white T-shirt provides a UPF of about 7 – when it gets wet, that reduces to a UPF of just 3!(4)

Whats the difference between UPF and SPF

What’s the difference between UPF and SPF?

UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) indicates how much UV radiation (both UVA and UVB) can penetrate a fabric and reach your skin. Essentially, the higher the UPF of sun protective clothing, the more it blocks out the sun’s damaging rays.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is different – it tells you how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to burn your skin when using the product as directed, versus the amount of time without any sunscreen. For example, if you use an SPF30 sunscreen, it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen2.

Whats the best sun protection clothing for kids and toddlers

Above: The best choice for children is high-UPF sun protective clothing that’s especially designed to wear in the sun.

What’s the best sun protection clothing for kids and toddlers?

Children’s young skin is thinner and more vulnerable to sunburn, so it’s essential to develop good sun protection habits from day dot. Finding a mineral sunscreen that’s especially developed for kids’ sensitive skins is essential – but remember that babies under six months old can’t wear sunscreen.

And even when your child is old enough for sunscreen, experts recommend using sun-protective clothing5 to cover as much skin as possible because it can reduce the need to reapply – and therefore reduce the chance of sunburn and long-term sun damage.

As with adults, the best choice for children is high-UPF sun protective clothing that’s especially designed to wear in the sun – such as sun-blocking T-shirts, onesies and swimsuits – preferably with long sleeves and as much leg coverage as possible. Top that off with a cool, wide-brimmed, high-UPF sun hat and kid-sized sunnies, and your child will be super SunSmart and look super-cool to boot.

Just remember to keep littlies in the shade as much as possible – under a tree, sun umbrella or in a shade tent if you’re at the beach - especially between 10am and 4pm during the daylight savings months.

Wear a hat in the sun

Why is so important to wear a hat in the sun?

Many common skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinomas make up about 90% of all skin cancers, and often appear on the head and neck. Choose a hat that’s not only broad-brimmed (i.e. shades your nose, eyes and most of your face), but ideally made of high UPF sun protective fabrics, such as Solbari’s range of UPF50+ sunhats.

Sources: 1. 2. Melanoma Institute Australia: 3. 4. 5.

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