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How Clothing Provides Natural Sun Protection

Little girl standing outside wearing large sunglasses

In summer, you have the chance to spend more time outside doing the things you love most – like swimming, hiking, gardening and more. But with these long hours outdoors, harmful UV rays can damage your skin.

Wearing sunscreen and limiting exposure are two common deterrents, and clothing also serves as natural sun protection. Clothing is the most basic method of sun protection, but not all garments are equal when it comes to blocking the burn.

More Is Better

The damage done to exposed skin actually accumulates over your lifetime, adding to your risk of accelerated aging and skin cancer. So the more skin that’s covered, the better. Because forearms are always exposed, a long-sleeve shirt protects you more than a short-sleeve. Long pants offer greater protection than shorts, as well. And a wide-brimmed hat blocks more of the sun’s rays than a baseball cap.

Consider Tight Fabric

Of course even with adequate clothing protection, the type of material also makes a difference in how much natural sun protection you receive. Most fabrics are composed of small fibers woven together, but because there are often small spaces between these fibers, UV rays can pass directly through them to reach the skin. The tighter the weave of the fabric, according to Dr. Joshua Zeichner, the greater the sun protection.

Tough, Synthetic and Shiny

Denim is a great example of a tough fabric with a tight weave, whereas an open-weave fabric offers significantly less protection. Fabrics may be made from cotton, wool, nylon and other synthetic materials. Synthetics such as lycra, polyester and acrylic offer more protection than cotton or wool fabrics. Shiny fabrics such as rayon, however, reflect more UV rays than a matte material like linen.

‘Factor’ in Protective Clothing

Although clothing that naturally protects against UV rays is always beneficial, you may want to consider purchasing items that have special coatings designed to offer superior burn prevention. On the clothing label, notice the “UV Protection Factor,” which may be written as UPF. As the number goes up, the greater your protection from UV rays. There are also products available like laundry detergents that can increase the UPF value of otherwise unprotected clothing. These can add a layer of protection without changing the texture or color.

Consider these options, and choose clothing that either offers natural sun protection or has been treated to protect bare skin. Clothing may not block all UV rays, but shiny, thickly woven materials allow you to literally wear the best sun protection.

Advice or recommendations are for informational or educational purposes only, not a substitute for a visit or consultation with your doctor.

WellTuned provides inspiration and practical advice for healthy living.
WellTuned does not offer medical advice. Any personal health questions should be addressed to your doctor.

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