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Clothing can block out the sun’s harmful UV rays and should be one of the first lines of defense against sun exposure. Sun protective clothing is any garment whose design or style covers sufficient skin and whose fabric is tightly-woven or has a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of 15 to 50+. Popular summer attire like T-shirts often provide only a UPF of 3 to 5. So, choose clothing and school uniforms wisely!
Sun protective clothing can include shirts with sleeves, pants, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, gloves, shoes, socks, and the like. Style, color, and weave affect the amount of protection that clothes provide against the sun’s UV rays. Long-sleeved shirts with collars and long pants provide the most protection simply because they cover more skin. Some people argue that sun-protective clothing is “too hot,” but light-weight, loosely-fitted clothing is a great choice. It allows air to flow through and cool the skin.
The color and weave of the fabric are important also. Lighter colors may feel cooler, but darker colors usually absorb UV better and provide more protection. Some clothing manufacturers are now making sun protective clothing in light colors, including white. Look for clothing labeled with an UPF of 15 to 50+.
Whether it is labeled with an UPF number or not, students likely have many pieces of clothing in their closets that provide good sun protection. The tighter the weave of the fabric, the more UV it blocks. Fabrics can be tested easily by holding them up to a light. Look to see how much visible light comes through the spaces in the weave. Fabrics that let little or no light shine through are more sun safe.
Tips to promote cover-up clothing use:
- Prohibit sleeveless shirts and cropped tops
- Prohibit extremely short skirts and shorts
- Require shirts with sleeves and collars in school uniforms
- Include a sun protective hat with your school uniform
- Modify sport and band uniforms to be more sun protective
- Alter your district dress code to make it sun safe
Looking to purchase sun safe clothing? Click here for a list of companies that sell these items.
Have more questions? Check out Skin Cancer 101 - Clothing.
In a 1997 national survey, only 8% of parents used shirts to protect their children from the sun.
Robinson JK, Rigel RS, Amonette RA. JAMA.1998;280:317-318.