Block the Sun Not the Fun
Midsummer is here and with it come the challenges of living in the warm (let’s face it, HOT) climate of Santa Clarita. Not only are we trying to keep cool, many of us are conscious of protecting our skin from the searing summer sun. Slathering on sunscreen is one option, but increasingly people are also turning to clothing for sun protection. How much ultraviolet radiation protection is provided by clothing? In 1990, an Australian organization, the Cancer Council Victoria (CCV), sought to answer this question. It purchased a number of summer beachwear items, sent them to a lab for testing, and received surprising results. Only a few garments reached a UV protection factor greater than 15. Clothing ideally should have a PF of 40 or 50. So Australia began solving this problem and by 1996 had developed and standardized the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) measurement. This rating system was adopted worldwide and is currently used to determine how effectively fabrics shield skin from the sun. UPF 30+ is very good protection and UPF 50+ is the highest protection rating clothing can have.
The nonprofit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG.org) reports that over the past two decades, clothing claiming an ultraviolet protection factor has enjoyed a soaring growth spurt. A recent search on Amazon for sun protective clothing provided nearly 25,000 products. Companies like UV Skinz, Coolibar, and Lily Pulitzer offer sun-safe clothing that is bright, fashionable, and fun. When worn correctly, clothing is the best form of sun protection according to the international Skin Cancer Foundation (skincancer.org).
When seeking to purchase sun-safe clothes, consumers should consider several factors. First, if the sun can penetrate the fabric easily, it’s not protective. It must have a tight weave density. Also, darker and more vibrant colors offer greater sun protection. The composition of the fabric fibers is important too, as some materials absorb UVR while others transmit UVR. For example, a thin white cotton T-shirt has a UPF rating of about five which means that 20 percent of UV radiation passes through it. Synthetic fibers such as polyester, lycra, nylon, and acrylic are more protective than bleached cottons. Shiny or lustrous semi-synthetic fabrics like rayon offer more UV protection than do matte ones, such as linen, which tend to absorb UV rays.
Consumers themselves can improve a piece of clothing’s UPF rating by washing the item. This generally makes the garment shrink slightly, closing up holes in the fabric that can let UV radiation in. Consumers can also wash in extra protection and raise the UPF with UV-filtering dyes and laundry additives like Sun Guard’s Rit®. The product’s active sunscreen ingredient Tinosorb® can increase clothes’ sun-protective abilities for up to 20 washings.
The American Cancer Society has designated July as UV Safety Month. As we enjoy outdoor summer fun, let’s consider additional ways to practice safe sun. For information about UV Safety and other support services that ACS provides, visit the American Cancer Society’s website at www.cancer.org or contact the SCV ACS office at 661-298-0886 option 3.
Mary Petersen is a COC English Instructor, longtime SCV resident, and two-time breast cancer survivor.
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