Winter Sun Safety: Choosing The Right Clothing To Protect Your Skin

Contributed by Jennifer Dawson

Skin cancer is the most common cancer globally, and in the United States, 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The sun’s UV rays are primarily responsible for skin damage and play a major role in the development of skin cancer. Although UV rays are strongest in the summer, the sun’s radiation can still be damaging in the colder months even if you can’t see it’s rays. As we head into fall and winter, it’s important to dress smartly in combination with wearing SPF sunscreen to protect yourself from the sun’s potentially harmful UV rays.

Lightweight and loose-fitting

Lightweight and loose-fitting apparel is ideal for protecting your skin from the sun. Tight clothing stretches easily and therefore reduces the level of protection offered (this is because the individual fibers pull away from each other and allow more UV light to pass through). Additionally, lightweight clothing that covers more of your skin can provide even better protection, especially if you’re going on a hike and will be exposed to the sun for a number of hours. Choose long-sleeved shirts or long pants or skirts wherever possible.

When you’re at the beach, donning a cover-up over your swimsuit is the perfect way to stay stylish yet protected. High-waisted lounge pants with a wide leg finish, for example, flatter every figure and provide great coverage for the legs. Finishing your look with a hat and sunglasses to protect your eyes, head, and face is equally important.

UPF clothing

UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) works similarly to SPF; it lets you know how effective specific clothing is at protecting your skin from the sun. UPF is actually a better method of sun protection than sunscreen since people tend to not wear enough sunscreen and don’t top it up throughout the day (particularly after swimming or sweating). While SPF sunscreen can protect you from the sun over a limited time frame, UPF clothing provides vital long term protection for as long as you wear it.

When you’re looking for an item of UPF clothing, aim for a UPF factor of at least 50 — that means only 1/50th or roughly 2% of UVB light gets through the clothing and reaches your skin. However, UPF clothing shouldn’t replace SPF sunscreen altogether. The two should be used in combination to maximize the amount of sun protection you give your skin.

Think about fabric

When choosing your clothing, it’s important to go for the right fabric. Densely woven fabrics offer much more shielding from harmful UV rays than loosely woven, light, sheer, or thin materials. For example, tweed and denim are made from twill threads, which are pulled extremely taught — therefore these fabrics provide ample sun protection. Elasticated threads are also effective as gaps in the weave are generally fairly small (the elastic works to pull the threads tightly together).

Similarly, synthetic clothing made from Lycra, acrylic, nylon, or polyester are better choices than bleached cotton. Shiny fabric like rayon and polyester and satiny silks reflect the sun’s rays and radiation, therefore providing better protection than materials like linen, which absorb UV rays meaning they’re able to reach the skin. You can easily check the protection provided by a piece of clothing by raising it up to the light. If you’re able to see light through the fabric, it’s easy for UV radiation to penetrate and reach your skin.

Carefully choosing the right sun-protective outfit is essential to provide your skin with enough protection against the sun’s potentially harmful UV rays, which continue to be present in the colder months.