Sure, you should avoid UV tanning booths and burning when you’re out in the sun, but that may require looking a little too covered up for your taste while out on the beach. Now, there’s an easy way to shield your skin without sacrificing style: sun-protective clothing and accessories. From tops and maxi dresses to hats and shades, fashion brands like Hat Attack, CoverClothing, and Mott50 are making a statement against skin cancer, a lifestyle disease that affects young women, older men, and everyone in between. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime; 13 million Americans are living with a history of non-melanoma skin cancer, and nearly 800,000 Americans are living with a history of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
Just how effective are UV-proof clothing and accessories – or is it all just a gimmick? According to dermatologist Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas, they are extremely effective. “Sun protective clothing and accessories are superior to sunscreen because they are not dependent upon the user applying the correct amount and missing spots or failing to reapply,” she says. “Also, sunscreen wears off with perspiration and time whereas clothing does not.” When choosing clothing, however, it’s important to pay attention to the UPF instead of the SPF. While SPF means sun protection factor and describes the effectiveness of a sunscreen in protecting skin from UVB radiation, UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor and is a numerical rating given to clothing to indicate how effectively the fabric blocks ultraviolet radiation. A UPF rating of 25 means that only 1/25th (or 4%) of the UV radiation can penetrate the fabric. Unlike SPF, which only expresses a sunscreen's protective value in terms of limited wavelengths of light, UPF applies to a range of broad spectrum UVA and UVB radiation (the highest UPF rating a garment can be assigned is 50+). “Just like sunscreen, there is a minimum amount of UPF you want in your clothing and accessories,” says Dr. Alexiades-Armenakas. “You want to wear no less than a UPF of 30.”
However, just because you wear the UPF-proof clothing, doesn’t mean you should skip the sunscreen. “When out in the sun or on the beach, be sure to apply a sunscreen with a protection factor of 30 or greater at least 30 minutes before sun exposure, and then re-apply every two hours thereafter,” advises Marina Peredo, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Smithtown, NY.