The beloved Sid Seagull has been touting the same message for a while now: Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide. This list has certainly grown over the years, however, the saliency of sun protective clothing has remained high on the list and become a fundamental part of how we protect ourselves from the sun.

What is sun protective clothing?

Sun protective clothing includes long sleeved shirts and pants that cover a large area of the body, as well as accessories such as wide brimmed hats that cover up the face, neck and ears or sunglasses made to protect the eyes against the damaging glare of the sun.
However, it is important to keep in mind that not all clothing can be classified as sun protective. Sun damage to the skin occurs due to exposure to harmful UV radiation, most often from the sun. Similar to sunscreen’s SPF rating, clothing is classified using the UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) scale, which measures the amount of radiation that a piece of clothing allows to penetrate down to the skin. Much like SPF ratings, a UPF of 30 and above offers what is considered good sun protection.
If a piece of clothing doesn’t have a UPF rating then there are some general rules that can help identify the whether a piece of clothing might offer sufficient protection against the sun.

  • Dark or bright colours offer better protection than lighter shades.
  • Cloth that is densely woven like denim allows less light to penetrate the fabric.
  • Materials that are shiny such as polyesters can offer UV protection by reflecting radiation.
  • Loose fitting clothing is better because it doesn’t stretch which might allow radiation through.
  • Clothing that covers large amounts of skin.

What are the benefits of sun protective clothing over sunscreen?

There are quite a few benefits to sun protective clothing over sunscreen. The most obvious is that it is obvious exactly how much skin is protected. While people often fail to put on enough sunscreen and believe that they are protected from the sun, sun protective clothing protects all parts of the skin that it covers. This is particularly advantageous when we consider parts of the body that can’t be protected by sunscreen such as the eyes or the top of the head.

Another benefit is that there is no need to reapply it every two hours and it doesn’t lose its efficacy if exposed to water or if the individual is perspiring heavily as sunscreen does. Overall this makes it a lot more effective than sunscreen in many cases.

So can protective clothing replace sunscreen?

Sun protective clothing is certainly a very effective way of protecting yourself from the sun, however, it does have its own limitations. The biggest issue is that some parts of the body can’t be covered by clothing for practical reasons. For example the hands are difficult to cover during summer, and even a wide brimmed hat can still exposed parts of the neck to the sun. That’s why it is always best to use sunscreen in concert with protective clothing, to give yourself the best possible coverage and ensure that you are properly protected from the sun.