Over the fourth of July weekend, my sun-worshipping little sister would come over to my beach chair and compare her chocolate colored legs against my pale, pale, almost translucent skin.
After a few seconds of admiring her color, she would inevitably tell me I was so pale I looked like a vampire.
My response? Every time? A heart-felt and sincere “thanks!!!!”
You would be hard-pressed to find someone more fanatically in love with sunscreen than moi. After seeing sooooo many skin disasters caused by the sun, I am all about staying young-looking forever due to my strict SPF-diligence. (I am obsessive about this to the point of using my dog to cover my lap and hands in the car, tinting my office window, and burying body parts at the beach to insure sun protection.) Even with my hard-on for sunscreen, I sometimes find it difficult to be appropriately diligent – and if it’s a problem for a SPF-phile like myself, it has to also be an issue for others.
Protecting my entire body (neck, décolletage, hands, arms and/or legs depending on the weather and my outfit) is a completely different story than simply making sure to apply sunscreen to my face before makeup application. If I’m not at the beach or pool, I don’t want to be covered in sun-screen all day, and if I am at the beach or pool, it can be hard to know exactly when to reapply, and whether or not every inch has been covered.
This summer, I alleviated half of my sunscreen worries by incorporating an ingenious piece of clothing from J.Crew. With my jaunty navy and white striped, long-sleeved rash-guard, I knew that my torso was constantly protected by an SPF-50 no matter how long I stayed outside, whether I went swimming, sweat profusely, or fell asleep at an awkward angle.
It. Was. Awesome.
After enjoying the peace of mind my dear friends Jenna Lyons and J.Crew so kindly bestowed upon me, it made me wonder about the inherent SPF protection of other clothing.
As a child, my mom always made us wear t-shirts at the beach when she’d thought we’d had too much sun. Was that a good thing though? How much SPF is in a t-shirt? Did the color, or material matter?
If you are like me and want to have safe, pretty skin for as long as possible while simultaneously being as lazy as possible -- read on for the sun protection clothing information you need to make the best looking decisions.
In case you’re still unsure, the advantages of clothing as sun protection:
- Once the garment is on – it’s working, your skin is safe.
- Will never wear off
- Never messy, oily or greasy
- Less expensive – one garment can last many seasons
- Can be worn for leisure and sport activities
- Can be fashionable and flattering
So, what’s already in your closet?
Chances are you already have loads of clothes that offer excellent UV protection. When choosing the ideal attire for sun safety, consider the following factors:
Material: Tightly woven or closely knitted fabrics, such as denim and wool, literally have very little space between threads. Because of the density of the material, they keep out more UV than fabrics with a loose or open weave, like lace or crochet. (Ideally, clothes worn for sun protection should not feel tight: snug-fitting garments can stretch and move, accidentally exposing skin to the sun.)
Other sun factors to consider in regards to material:
Type of Fiber: Synthetic and semi-synthetic fibers (such as polyester and rayon) offer the greatest sun protection. Refined and bleached cottons or crepe offer the least. And glossy fabrics, such as satin, reflect more UV away from the skin than do matte fabrics, like linen.
Thickness or Density: Thin, lightweight materials, including some silks and bleached cottons, let in more UV light than do heavier, denser fabrics such as corduroy.
Color: Dark or bright colors, like red or black, absorb more UVR than white or pastel shades, stopping the rays before they reach the skin. The more intense the color, the better the UV defense.
The best thing to wear?
Jeans. With denim’s inherent rich color, and thick, tight weave, blue-jeans are estimated to have an SPF-166!
The worst thing to wear?
After being completely nude, the next worst option would be a wet, white cotton t-shirt. With it’s light color, loose weave, plus being wet, you’re looking at an approximate SPF-3.
For your face, neck and ears:
While clothes can go a long way towards protecting your body, the face, neck and ears are the areas that receive the most sun exposure. Due to this, they are particularly susceptible to the two most common forms of skin cancer, basal and squamous cell carcinoma. (Not to be morbid, but people with melanoma -- the deadliest type of skin cancer -- on the head / neck / ears are almost twice as likely to die from the disease as patients with melanomas on other parts of the body.)
Hats are the head’s first line of defense. And they’re so easy! And potentially flattering!
In order to make sure that your topper protects your precious bits, The Skin Cancer Foundation advises everyone to wear hats with a brim that extends three inches or more all the way around to shade the face, neck, ears, and even the top of the shoulders. (Again, the density of material is important. The hat should be made of a solid material, and you should not be able to see through any part of it. If your eye can see through it, the UV rays can definitely get through it too.)
For your eyes:
Sunglasses should also be an essential part of your sun protection. Over time, solar UV can cause vision conditions ranging from cataracts and macular degeneration to ocular melanomas and other skin cancers. (Five to 10 percent of all skin cancers arise on the eyelids!)
When it comes to sunglasses – the bigger, the better! Look for shades that cover the eyes, eyelids, and as much of the surrounding face as possible. (Ideally they should also come with a certificate or sticker verifying that they provide UV protection.)
For your bod:
As with any clothing or accessory used for sun protection -- the more skin you cover, the better! (Long-sleeved shirts and long pants provide more protection than short-sleeve T-shirts and shorts.)
When swimming: Look for swimwear that covers the most skin, like one-pieces and long trunks. (For extended stays in the water, full-body wetsuits and rash-guards are an option, and there are so many cute styles now!)
In the snow; hats are again important in addition to sunglasses. (People often dismiss sun protection in cold weather, which is counter-intuitive considering that ice and snow actually reflect 80% of the sun’s UV light, almost doubling the exposure.)
Advanced clothing options:
Sun Specific: Many clothing manufacturers now make pieces specifically for sun-protection. (Coolibar.com is a wonderful source for all things sun-protective.) Look for garments with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) label, which indicates what fraction of the sun’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate the fabric. (A shirt with a UPF of 50, for example, allows only 1/50th of the sun’s UV rays to reach the skin, whereas an everyday white cotton T-shirt has a UPF of about 5.)
In addition, sun protection products that pass further testing may receive the Seal of Recommendation from The Skin Cancer Foundation’s for it’s advanced safety and efficacy. (Eligible clothing must have a UPF of 30+.)
You can now personally increase the UPF of your clothes by washing them with special laundry additive like Sun Guard’s Rit®. The product’s active ingredient, Tinosorb®, increases clothes’ sun-protective abilities for up to 20 washings. These laundry additives can raise the UPF of an everyday white cotton T-shirt to about 30!
Nearly 3.7 million skin cancers are diagnosed in the US annually, and if the sun damage doesn’t kill you – it causes up to 90% of the visible signs of aging (such as wrinkles, brown spots, and sagging skin.)
Put on your hat, glasses, UPF-shirt, favorite jeans, and fuhgeddaboudit. You got this covered. Literally. (The future you thanks you!)