Beyond Sunscreen: Protection through Clothing & Accessories

San Diego Sun Safety

Many myths abound about who is and is not vulnerable to sun damage and the best practices to avoid it. One such myth about those affected is that people of color are not at risk for skin cancer. UV-induced skin damage is possible in any kind of skin. It’s just not true that people of color are free from the devastating consequences of skin damage; in fact, people of color who do get skin cancer tend to die from it. Another popular myth is that sunscreen alone can adequately protect against skin cancer. The truth is there are lots of other sun-safe habits everyone should practice in order to avoid sun damage. First, we’ll start with clothing.

Did you know that clothing has a sun protection factor, except it isn’t called SPF?

Clothing is assigned a Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), a number which indicates the fraction of sun’s UV rays which penetrate a clothing material. For example, a UPF 50 shirt blocks all but 1/50th of sun’s rays that reach the skin—not bad! Also, UPF measures the ability for fabric to block UVA and UVB, while SPF only predicts how long you are in the sun before skin reddens and your level of protection against UVB rays.

Did you know that a wide-brimmed hat can help protect many areas where it is difficult to apply sunscreen?

Fashion choices can help or hurt your intention to block sun damage. Hats are a key component. In addition to covering the scalp, hats also protect the tops of ears and the back of the neck. A wide-brimmed hat should meet the general criteria of having 3 inches or greater of coverage. It’s a great habit to wear a hat no matter where you go, especially in areas where it’s difficult to apply sunscreen.

san diego sun safetyTo better protect against sun damage, here are a few item swaps you can make:

  1. Long-sleeved shirt versus a T-shirt
  2. Long pants versus shorts
  3. Wide-brimmed hat versus a baseball cap
  4. Wraparound sunglasses versus small lenses

When considering clothes, consider the weave, fabric type and color. Tighter weaves limit the number of spaces through which UV rays can pass to reach the skin, whereas looser weaves afford little protection. Plus, darker colors absorb more UV than lighter colors, with more vivid colors affording greater protection than pale ones.

Here are some sun-safe fabric swaps:

  1. Lycra/Elastane, Nylon, Polyester, Acrylic, Rayon and Heavy Cotton Denim versus Bleached Cottons, Linen and Light Silk.
  2. Black, red and bright yellow versus white, pink and pastel yellow

Should you buy UPF-tested/labeled clothing? It’s up to you, although it is not necessarily superior to everyday clothing such as denims. However, you might enjoy having a high-UPF shirt that both cools you down and knowingly protects you against the sun.  Such an item ensures your clothing is protecting you, which is important considering you cannot judge an item’s UPF by how much light you see passing through.

Here are additional tips for sun-safe clothing:

  1. Get items with a minimum of UPF 30
  2. Choose items covering more skin than items that don’t (swim shirt versus a bikini)
  3. Wash cotton items three times before wearing (raises UPF when material shrinks)
  4. Apply sunscreen on exposed areas, or areas not covered with clothes

san diego sun safetyEye Protection in the Sun

Did you know that sunglasses are incredibly important for protecting your eyes and are not just for eye health?

That’s right, good sunglasses should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB rays! You should practice wearing sunglasses every time you step out into the sun, even on overcast days. What considerations should you have when picking sunglasses? For one, you don’t have to buy an expensive, fashionable pair to guarantee eye protection.

Here are features to look for in a pair of sunglasses:

  1. Notice that they absorb and block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB. A bonus if they protect against HEV light as well.
  2. Large size to shield eyes, eyelids and surrounding areas. Close-fit, wraparound styles with protective side shields are the best.
  3. Durability/build (no scratches on UV coating or sliding!)
  4. Polarized lenses to minimize glare (especially when driving).

Like with skin damage, UV rays can harm the eyes progressively, with damage accumulating over the lifetime. UV rays damage the retina, which consists of light-sensitive eye cells at the back of the eye. Plus, your risk of cataracts and eyelid cancers increases with unprotected sun exposure. In order to ward off eye damage, combine sunglasses with a wide-brimmed hat.

Did you know you can also get contact lenses and prescription glasses with UV protection?

When it comes to UV-blocking contact lenses, there are FDA Class I blockers and FDA Class II blockers. The former blocks 90% UVA and 99% UVB, while the latter blocks 70% UVA and 95% UVB. For people with higher risk of eye problems, UV-blocking contact lenses are a great investment.

Did you know that UV rays are responsible for advanced aging around the eyes, such as formation of crow’s feet?

With a good sun-safe regimen incorporating hats, sunglasses, UV-protective eyewear and even a specially formulated eye sunscreen, your eye health and eye area appearance can benefit.

san diego sun safetyEveryday Tips for San Diego Sun Safety*

When you choose hats, sunglasses and generic clothing, keep in mind that you must also avoid sun in peak hours from 10 AM to 4 PM and frequently reapply sunscreen. Don’t make exceptions such as when you’re on vacation or during wintertime. Also, be mindful how the environmental conditions you’re in intensify UV exposure, such as being by water or snow. In fact, these conditions reflect UV rays a second time. At high altitudes, you should also practice sun-safe habits. Hiking, skiing and being on a plane all expose you to a higher UV intensity.

*These tips are not limited to San Diego. The Laser Cafe is based in San Diego, where we note lots of concerning sun habits (especially since we love sunny trips to the beach!). No matter where you are (high elevation or low, overcast or sunny), you should diligently follow a sun-safe lifestyle. For more tips, consult www.skincancer.org.

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