Orvis Guide to Adventure
UPF CLOTHING: SMART SUN PROTECTION FOR YOUR SKIN
Ever wonder how UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) clothing works to deliver protection from the sun? Can it really be all that different from any other clothing? The answer is yes. And no. Clothing is your first line of defense in protecting your skin from the sun, and all clothing affords at least some protection. But some textiles do the job better than others, and clothing that bears a UPF rating in particular is up to the task. Read on for answers to common questions about intelligent clothing that can safeguard your sensitive skin from the sun.
Q. WHAT IS UPF CLOTHING?
Understanding a few basic but important terms is essential to understanding modern UPF clothing made from textiles steeped in science:
Q. IS UPF THE SAME AS SPF?
The UPF rating is to clothing what the SPF rating is to lotion and other cosmetic products. The UPF rating is applied to textiles that protect your skin from the sun. And while the two are similar, the SPF rating used for cosmetics and sunscreens measures only how much UVB is blocked, but not UVA (unless it is labeled “broad spectrum”). UPF clothing blocks both types of radiation.
If your unprotected skin typically starts burning after twenty minutes, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 would give you fifteen times that, or five additional hours. The UPF rating works differently; a garment with a UPF of 50 allows 1/50th of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, or about two percent of it, to reach the skin through the fabric. By way of comparison, an ordinary white T-shirt has a UPF of 5, so it allows 1/5 (or twenty percent), of the sun’s UV radiation to reach the skin.
The UPF was standardized in Australia in 1996; in the USA the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) sets standards for UPF labeling.
Q. IS UV RADIATION DANGEROUS?
In a word, yes. But a better question is, How dangerous is UV radiation? UV radiation can damage your skin in as few as 15 minutes; prolonged exposure to it has dramatic health effects on the skin, the eyes, and the immune system:
Children are an especially vulnerable population: the Centers for Disease Control reports that a few serious sunburns obtained during childhood increase a child’s risk for developing skin cancer later in life.
Q. HOW DOES UPF CLOTHING WORK?
UPF clothing either blocks or absorbs UV radiation to protect your skin. While “absorbing” UV rays may sound undesirable, it is actually transformative in a way that is helpful: when the “absorbent” textile encounters the UV, its energy is converted to heat, making it harmless.
Clothing that bears a UPF designation in its label has been tested and deemed to protect its wearer from UVA and UVB radiation, so long as it bears a rating of 15 or higher; in some cases it may also have been treated with colorless dyes or chemical UV absorbers that block both UVA and UVB rays. The UPF rating is based on a fabric’s content, weight, color, and construction. But a fabric does not have to be labeled as such to provide UV protection.
ARE YOU AT RISK FOR SKIN CANCER?
130,000 malignant melanomas occur globally each year. And while skin cancer is more common in fair-skinned people, it can occur in skin of any color.
People at higher risk for damage from UV radiation
The fairer your skin and the more intense the UV radiation where you are, the more preventive steps you should take to protect your skin and eyes.
Q. DOES UPF CLOTHING REALLY WORK?
There is wide agreement among dermatologists that UPF clothing does work, and actually delivers more effective protection from the sun, and more reliably, than other means. But the amount of coverage is key, and the more skin you cover, the better protection you can expect: a long-sleeved shirt is better than a short-sleeved one, pants are better than shorts.
Fair-skinned people stand to benefit the most from UPF clothing, but any skin type will benefit from it at least some. Ratings are scaled as follows:
It’s best to choose clothing with a UPF rating of 30 or higher; UPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UV radiation. And unlike sunscreen, UPF clothing works indefinitely—there is nothing to reapply for continued protection.
Q. DOES THE CLOTHING IN MY CLOSET PROTECT ME FROM UV RAYS?
All clothing protects your skin from harmful UV radiation to some extent, and clothing is generally the best means of protection. Beyond clothing that bears a specific UPF label, look for these benchmarks:
High concentrations of premium dyes are used in some UPF-labeled clothing; typically, the higher the concentration of the dyes, the darker the material. Also look to pigment-dyed fabrics for UV protection—these are textiles colored with a process that chemically binds the color to the material’s fibers.
Quick Tip: Wash natural fiber clothing several times to maximize shrinkage of the “holes” in the weave.
Quick Tip: Wash your clothing with a UPF detergent additive or an optical brightening agent, which will enhance its natural UPF properties.
Choosing a garment with a UPF label ultimately takes the guesswork out of measuring whether it effectively blocks or absorbs UV rays, as its material will have been tested in a laboratory. And UPF-labeled garments now come in a wide range of colors and weights.
BEYOND UPF: SMART TIPS FOR SUN PROTECTION
An active outdoor lifestyle demands a proactive approach to protection from the sun. A multi-pronged solution includes more than just the UPF label in your clothing:
Slow the sun’s harmful effects on your skin with these strategies, and include intelligent, modern UPF clothing in your wardrobe.
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