Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

UPF Clothing – Really Protecting You From The Sun? August 20, 2012

Loyal readers to this blog know that I am sun protection obsessed.  Besides for reminding my readers to always use sunscreen I have promoted the use of clothes with built-in sun protection and laundry detergent additives that wash sun protection into your clothes (I have also used this laundry additive myself) in this blog.  But I had to rethink my promotion of these products when I read The New Times article New Breed of Products Is Said to Offer Sun Protection, but Doubts Linger back in May.  (Yes, May.  I’ve been slow to write about this issue)

Now why would I start to rethink my position on these products?  For a very simple reason – there is no oversight over their production, just over how they are advertised.  So you have to trust that the product is doing what the manufacturer says it is and being the cynical person I am I sometimes doubt that companies have the consumers best interest in mind.

The article does a good job at explaining the dilemmas surrounding these products:

…  manufacturers are upping the ante with whole new categories of chemically treated products that purport to block ultraviolet light. The products range from clothing and shoes to makeup and umbrellas. There are even sunscreen bikinis that pledge to shield those patches of skin that they actually cover.

But consumers and dermatologists have their doubts. Among those doctors who view this new breed of products as just so much marketing is Dr. Naomi Lawrence, head of procedural dermatology at Cooper University Medical Center in Camden, N.J.

“When it comes to sun protection, you really can’t beat a dark shirt with a tight weave and a good hat,” she said. “There is a lot you can do and not spend a lot of money.”

Which is not to say that many UV-protective products do not do what they promise. UV-protective clothing — once the realm of specialty retailers catering to skin cancerpatients, but now a hot seller for brands like the Gap, Izod,Uniqlo and Lands End — add protection by infusing fabric with chemicals that absorb UV rays, like titanium dioxide or Tinosorb. Sunscreen-infused laundry additives work the same way. With the infusion, summer-ready materials like cotton and linen can keep harmful rays from reaching the skin, even if the fabric is white, yellow or light blue, for example.

Because standard clothing must be densely woven or dark colored to offer advanced UV protection, these specially treated clothes are “good if you want something long-sleeved that is also lightweight,” Dr. Lawrence said.

But as sun-protective clothing has made its way into the mainstream, seemingly obvious features like sleeves have occasionally been sacrificed, defeating part of the purpose. Lesser offenses include shorts and sleeveless shirts, while items like bikinis — which claim to offer the maximum degree of sun protection — might be a bit of a stretch.

…  The Food and Drug Administration briefly regulated sun-protective clothes in the early 1990s, classifying them as medical devices. While it no longer does that, the Federal Trade Commission does monitor marketing claims about garments and sun protection. A measurement called UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, is the standard for UV-protective clothing. Developed in 2001 by ASTM International, a product-testing agency, a UPF ranges from 1 to 50, with 50 being the most UV light that is blocked by a garment.

Despite the doubts about these clothes why are consumers still purchasing them?

While no one tracks sales of sun-protective products across categories, the market for them is clearly growing, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst with the NPD Group, a research company.

“Coming out of the recession, consumers are looking at products with a greater level of scrutiny and greater expectations,” he said. “They want their products to do more than just one thing, not just to look good, but to travel well and to match their lifestyle and to protect them from the environment.”

So is it a good idea to invest in these types of clothes which generally are not cheap?  I think that if you spend a lot of time outdoors in a sunny climate than yes.  Clothes like these could definitely benefit people who exercise outdoors in the summer and have a tendency to both sweat off their sunscreen and/or not have the time to reapply.  Clothing with built-in sun protection could be a real help to such people.  Just make sure you buy your clothes and products for a reputable manufacturer and read consumer reviews before hand.

 

Further Reading:

Image from spagenius.com

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2 Responses to “UPF Clothing – Really Protecting You From The Sun?”

  1. I just purchased a UPF 50 swim shirt on the weekend from lulu lemon. I didn’t even think to research it before buying. I just ass-umed a shirt that protected skin from harmful UV rays was a good idea. Even on the sale rack the thing was $70. I’m starting to regret my ‘final sale’ item now! Thanks for the info.

  2. […] Ask An Esthetician wonder if UPF clothes really protect you from the sun. […]


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