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How Do Sun-Safe Clothes Protect You From The Sun?

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Skin protection is crucial in the bright Australian sun, and clothing plays a key role in our SunSmart strategy — a part of the familiar slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide message. But what exactly constitutes effective sun-protective clothing, and how can we identify the best options to shield ourselves from harmful UV rays?

Sun-safe clothing, ranging from UPF-rated fabrics to wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, offers an essential barrier against UV exposure, helping to prevent sunburn and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

This guide delves into the world of sun-protective garments, exploring how they work, what to look for, and why they're an indispensable part of our sun safety toolkit. Let's navigate the sun's rays with confidence and care.

Mother wearing sun safe clothing, putting on sunscreen for her child.

What is sun-safe clothing, and how does it work?

Sun-safe clothing is specifically designed to act as a shield against the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can cause DNA damage in our skin cells, ultimately leading to various skin cancers. While it's true that nearly all types of clothing offer some degree of protection, their effectiveness in blocking UVA and UVB rays varies significantly across different materials and weaves.

The key lies in the fabric's weave or knit — the tighter it is, the more effective the clothing will be at providing sun protection. Heavy fabrics like denim or thick cotton are far superior in safeguarding your skin compared to lighter materials such as loose knits or sheer cotton.

Besides the density of the weave, some fabrics are specifically engineered for sun protection. This includes utilising specific weaves, applying chemical treatments, and considering the fabric's denier, which refers to its thread count per inch.

Such sun-protective clothing effectively absorbs or reflects UV rays, minimising the amount that penetrates the fabric and reaches your skin. By choosing garments made from these materials, you can significantly reduce your exposure to harmful sun radiation, thereby lessening the risk of developing skin cancers, particularly in the more sun-drenched areas of Australia.

man looking at woman

What is the best colour to wear in the sun?

When it comes to sun safety, not all clothing colours are created equal. The colour of your garments can play a significant role in protecting you from the sun's UV rays. Darker hues, such as black, grey, or deep red, are particularly effective in absorbing UV radiation.

This means that these darker shades prevent more UV rays from reaching your skin compared to lighter colours. In essence, wearing darker-coloured clothing acts as an additional layer of sun protection.

So, when you're choosing what to wear for a day out in the Australian sun, remember that darker colours aren't just a style choice — they're a health precaution too, helping to reduce your skin's exposure to harmful UV rays.

man and woman side by side wearing sun protective clothing

What is the best fabric for sun protection?

In the quest for the most effective sun-protective clothing, the key lies in selecting tightly woven fabrics. Materials like dense cotton and linen not only offer cooling comfort but also come with high UV protective qualities.

Don't forget to look for good skin coverage. That means collared shirts, long sleeves, and any design that covers your skin while you’re outside, whether for work or play.

For those seeking the pinnacle of sun safety, keep an eye out for garments with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating. This rating measures a fabric's ability to block UV radiation from reaching your skin. A higher UPF rating signifies better protection, shielding you effectively from harmful sun exposure.

Today, the market offers an array of lightweight, high-UPF clothing options. From surf and workwear to fashion brands, you can find stylish garments designed to protect against UV rays.

Whether you're at the beach, at work, or simply enjoying the outdoors, these high-UPF fabrics provide an excellent blend of fashion and function, making them an ideal choice for anyone looking to combine sun safety with style.

Man with Sun Glasses and Sun smart shirt

When should I use sun-protective clothing?

Sun-protective clothing is not just a summer necessity; it's essential all year round. UV radiation from the sun is ever-present, capable of reaching and damaging skin cells in any season. Often, we overlook the importance of sun protection during cooler months, but the sun's rays are just as harmful then.

High UPF-rated clothing, paired with sunscreen, should be a part of your daily outdoor attire, regardless of whether you're gardening, working outdoors, or enjoying a game of cricket at the park.

Remember, UV rays don't take a break, even in winter. It's crucial to maintain your sun safety routine throughout the year. Wearing sun-protective clothing consistently provides a necessary barrier between your skin and UV radiation, significantly reducing the risk of sun damage and skin cancer.

So, next time you step outside, ensure you're well-equipped to protect yourself, no matter the season.

Workers in the sun

Where can I find sun-protective clothing?

Sun-protective clothing has become increasingly accessible and varied, making it easier than ever to incorporate into your daily wardrobe. These specialised garments are available in numerous places, from outdoor and sporting goods stores to fashion outlets and online shops. When searching for sun-safe options, look for items with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) label — this indicates the level of UV protection provided by the fabric.

Many clothing brands, including those specialising in surfwear, outdoor gear, and workwear, now offer stylish and effective sun-protective clothing lines. These ranges include long-sleeve shirts, pants, and wide-brimmed hats, all designed with sun safety in mind. Additionally, you can find lightweight and breathable fabrics ideal for warmer climates, ensuring comfort without compromising on protection.

It's also worth noting that some regular clothing items, especially those made from densely woven fabrics, can offer a degree of sun protection. However, for assured safety, particularly in the harsh Australian sun, garments with a certified UPF rating are the best choice. Remember, while you may find sun-protective clothing in many stores, always check for the UPF rating to ensure the level of protection meets your needs.

With a growing awareness of the importance of sun safety, sun-protective clothing is becoming a staple in wardrobes across Australia. Whether you're at the beach, enjoying a picnic, or just out and about, these garments provide an essential layer of defence against harmful UV radiation.

doctor examines woman's arm

Embracing Comprehensive Sun Safety

Wearing sun-protective clothing is a crucial aspect of a comprehensive sun safety routine for everyone under the Australian sun. But remember, it's just one part of a larger protective strategy. Alongside sporting sun-safe garments, it's equally important to apply quality sunscreen regularly, shield your eyes with well-rated sunglasses, and book in for regular skin checks.

Sun-protective clothing offers a formidable barrier against harmful UV rays but works best with other sun safety measures. The combined use of UPF-rated clothing, SPF sunscreen, and sunglasses creates a multi-layered defence, significantly reducing your skin's risk of skin damage and skin cancer.

If you've noticed any recent changes in your skin, it's crucial to take action. Whether it's time for your next skin check, you have concerns or simply have questions about sun safety, the experts at SunDoctor's Skin Cancer Clinics are here to assist you.

Reach out to us on 13 SKIN (13 75 46) for guidance and to book your appointment. Remember, early detection and prevention are key to maintaining healthy skin and enjoying the Australian outdoors safely.

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