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


Stylish Sun Protective Clothing: Not an Oxymoron June 30, 2011

As summer kicks into high gear I want to remind my readers that a great way to protect yourself from the sun is to wear clothes with built- in sun protection or UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor).  What exactly is UPF and why do you want clothes that have it?  The website SunSational Style explains:

Both SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) are standards used to measure sunburn protection from UVA and UVB sun rays. SPF, the standard used to measure the effectiveness of sunscreens, has been around for many years. The UPF system is relatively new and was created specially for sun protective fabrics.
SPF, is a gauge of how much time a person can be exposed to the sun before getting burned. For example, if you burn in 10 minutes without sunscreen and you apply a liberal dose of sunscreen with a SPF 30, you should be protected from a sunburn for 300 minutes (this will vary based on exposure to water and sweat).
UPF rating indicates how much of the sun’s UV radiation is absorbed by the fabric. For example, a fabric with a UPF rating of 50 only allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to pass through it. This means that this fabric will reduce your skin’s UV radiation exposure by 50 times (98% UV block) in areas where the skin is protected by the fabric. A normal light t-shirt may only provide a UPF 5 sun protection whereas a light-weight sun protective shirt would block 98% of the sun’s harmful rays and keep your skin cooler.
Unlike sunscreens, the UPF sun protection does not wash off or lessen in it’s effectiveness so you can remain confident in your protection all day long. Another advantage of the UPF standard is that both UVB and UVA are measured.
That’s great and all, but here’s the problem, and I’ll be blunt, most clothes with UPF are ugly in my opinion.  Luckily lately a few companies have been producing stylish clothes that also protect you from the sun.  Here are a few companies of those companies:
  • Mott 50  (This company has been getting quite a fair share of press for its clothes)
  • Athleta   –  these are clothes for the more athleticly minded women
  • ExOfficio – more run of the mill clothes but they definitely have a few nice pieces
  • Coolibar – great basics with UPF protection
  • Roxy – swim and surf wear with UPF protection for the whole family

There is one more way to get clothes with built in sun protection – wash it in with SunGuard.  This is a really cheap and easy way to get UPF protection into all your clothes for your entire family.  Throw this powder in with your wash and viola! all the clothes come out with UPF 30 that lasts up to 20 washes.  I’ve done this for my family, and it makes me feel good to know that we all have extra protection from the sun this summer.

For more information on sun protective clothing please see this article – Clothing: Our First Line of Defense – from The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Have a sun safe July 4th weekend!


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