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Published on April 25, 2019

woman with kids on beach wearing protective clothing and hats

Good Skin Protection Starts With Your Clothes

No one really likes it – sunscreen is expensive, it’s messy and if you’re using it properly, you need to apply a lot more than you probably do.

So if time outdoors is a big part of your life, it could be a good idea to invest in clothing that really adds to your protective arsenal against sun damage, whether you’re heading out for winter snowshoeing or preparing for the summer’s many sports and activities in nature.

“It starts with a good long-sleeve shirt of a material that can allow you to remain cool but that protects you from the ultraviolet light of the sun that can cause skin cancer,” said Jenny Nelson, MD, Avera Medical Group dermatological surgeon. “A quality shirt with a decent ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) can protect 40 percent of your body by itself. If you add other protective clothing and use sunscreen for uncovered areas, you’ll know you’re doing the right things to prevent sun-caused skin cancers.”

To maximize protection from the sun:

Know Your Numbers

UPF scores are not the same as a sun protection factor (SPF) you’ve likely seen on a sunscreen bottle. Ultraviolet light comes in two forms, UVA and UVB. The rays from the sun produce both, and sun-safe clothing protects you from both. “Broad-spectrum sunscreens can stop both UVB and UVA rays, but not all sunscreen products are broad spectrum, and it’s easy to use them incorrectly,” Nelson said. “Protective clothing is known to provide full protection from all damaging ultraviolet light.”

Start Up Top

Breathable, swimmable materials are made into a wide range of shirts or tops that can not only keep you safe, but allow you to take part in whatever activity you most enjoy. “These aren’t like some heavy old long-sleeve shirt that was your grandpa’s – they are light enough so you can stay cool on hot days and even wear them while swimming,” she said. “Look for UPF factors on the tags of clothing. Not all clothing items can stop the sun from penetrating and causing sunburn or damage.”

Then add shorts and leggings with quality protection, as well, and you’re mostly set up safe from sun damage.

Get a Hat On

Wide-brimmed hats that make a complete circle around your head are your best bet for full protection – leave the baseball caps at home if you want to avoid sunburn or skin cancer risks. “Comfort is important in a hat, and the wider brim is important to shield the skin of your face and neck,” said Nelson. “Sunglasses are another key item because they not only protect your eyes, the shield the skin around your eyes from damaging rays. Skin cancers in the eyelid area are especially difficult to treat – it’s among the worst places to develop a cancer.”

Slip it Off, Put it On

If you’re going boating and slip off your protect shirt to take a swim – make sure you’re putting sunscreen on before that dip. “If you put down your guard for that shorter timeframe, you’ll undo the good the protection afforded you all day,” Nelson said. “Make sunscreen an important part of your overall protection.”

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