Clothing for Sun Protection


Clothing is the best way to protect yourself from excessive sun exposure, if you wish, or need, to remain in the sun once you have received your desired level. Its protection is consistent, since it does not fade or rub off after a while of being applied like sunscreen creams or lotions do. This also makes it very cost effective: clothing is bought once, then re-used many times, remaining largely as effective as the first time (although protection does slowly fade with age). Clothing is also easy to use effectively, and is not messy to apply.

However, clothes do not all provide the same level of protection: different materials, such as cotton, polyester, nylon, etc, have different inherent UV absorption characteristics. Synthetic materials are generally better at absorbing UV than natural ones, and dark colours are usually better absorbers than light colours, although light colours reflect light too.

The weave of the fabric is also very important: a loose, open weave can let light through the many tiny holes, so a tight weave gives better protection. The protection of many fabrics can be reduced if they become wet or stretched. Fabrics can also be treated, either during manufacture or by using aftermarket products, to increase their protection level.

Many manufacturers label their clothing with an Ultra-violet Protection Factor (UPF) rating to indicate the effectiveness of their products for UV protection. This works in the same way as the SPF rating for sunscreens, but measures both UVA and UVB protection. To give adequate day-long protection, your clothing should have a UPF of 30 or more, this will then block 97% of incident UV radiation.

The clothing that you choose for protection should be cool and comfortable to wear in a hot climate. It should also cover as much of your skin as possible, yet allow for adequate circulation of air to avoid build up of perspiration.

Sun Hats

When putting on clothes to protect your self from the sun, don’t overlook protection for your head, including face, ears and neck. Using an umbrella or parasol can be effective, but wearing a hat is likely to be more practical.

To be effective, a sun hat needs to have a brim, or other device, that casts shade over your whole face, neck and ears. Three basic types are generally recommended for sun protection:

  • Broad-brimmed – a wide, relatively stiff, almost horizontal brim that extends around the entire circumference of the hat. The brim needs to be at least 7.5 cm (3 in) wide.
  • Legionnaire – a wide, stiff peak at the front, with a cloth skirt around the sides and back that drapes down to shoulder level. The cloth skirt should meet the peak at each side to give protection to the sides of the face.
  • Bucket or Surfie style – a wide, relatively soft brim all round that slopes downward in a conical fashion. The brim needs to be at least 6 cm (2.5 in) wide for adequate protection (5 cm / 2 in for pre-school children).

A baseball cap is not suitable because it doesn’t give any protection to the cheeks, ears or neck.

When using a sun hat, remember to be aware of reflected or other indirect sources of sunlight that come from the sides or below, rather than above, and can therefore get around the protection provided by the brim.


Finally, when protecting yourself from the sun, don’t forget about your eyes: wear sunglasses in strong sunlight, especially where there is a lot of light or reflective surfaces around.

However, don’t use sunglasses unnecessarily: your eyes need daily, prolonged exposure to bright light to maintain your biological clock in a healthy rhythm and provide a proper cycle of serotonin and melatonin levels.

There is also anecdotal evidence at least that exposure to UV through the eyes can help combat some types of cancer, although the mechanism for this is not known.

When choosing sunglasses, you should look for ones that block both UVA and UVB, to 99.5% or more: check the labels for approvals such as a CE Mark, British Standard, or UV 400.

Colour has little effect on protection, although pink, purple or blue tints are generally poor at blocking light, but the tint should be uniform and not darker or lighter in spots. Different colours can, however, be appropriate for different sports – brown is generally best for everyday use.

The tint should not be too light, but it shouldn’t be too dark either: excessively dark glasses can cause the pupils to dilate and let more light in.

Polarization reduces glare from reflections, but does little on its own for UV protection.

Sunglasses that wraparound the face offer the best protection, since they block light from the sides as well as the front. Sunglasses should also fit properly and comfortably: poorly fitting glasses can allow light to reflect off the back of the lens and into the eye. Also beware of fashion sunglasses – they may offer inadequate protection due to small size or poor shape.

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