When the mercury rises, conventional wisdom says to wear as little clothing as possible. But a new crop of "sun-protective" offerings from retailers such as Uniqlo and Mott 50 aims to dispel the myth that less is more when it comes to summer garb.
"Believe it or not, clothes -- like sunscreens -- have ratings and instead of the previous SPF, which was for UVB only, now there is the UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, which is for UVB and UVA," explains Long Island-based dermatologist Kenneth Mark, referring to the two types of ultraviolet light.
This Ultraviolet Protection Factor is the selling point of brands such as Coolibar, which offers a wide range of apparel and accessories intended to shield customers from the damaging effects of the sun. "One of the greatest failures of sunscreen is that it's only intended to block UVB," says Michael Hubsmith, Coolibar's executive vice president of merchandising. "UVA is the more deadly of the two ultraviolet radiations."
So does donning a UPF T-shirt really offer an advantage over slapping on traditional sunblock? According to Dr. Mark, yes. Sun-protective clothing can offer significantly more protection than sunscreen in the sense that "there is no variability -- the only variable for whether the clothing will protect is if you wear it," he says. "With sunblock, you have to be using the correct one, apply the correct amount, reapply frequently, be aware of sweating and swimming and other water issues, and apply it 20 minutes prior to exposure. Most people do not
put enough on and do not put it on early enough before going outside."
Hubsmith filled us in on Coolibar's method for making each piece sun-protective. "We work with proprietary fabrics we've developed that use the main ingredient from sunscreens, and they're incorporated into the fiber so they can never wash or wear off," he said. "It's mostly titanium dioxide, but we also have a very successful zinc oxide fabric that we call ZnO SUNTECT. If you ever look at sunscreen, you'll see the primary active ingredients are titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, or a combination of the two."
Hubsmith says to ensure that all garments are as sun-protective as possible -- meaning a UPF rating of 50+ -- Coolibar conducts an AATCC 183 test, an internationally recognized procedure used by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists. The garment is then put through a wash test that simulates the life cycle of a garment, estimated at 40 machine washings and 100 hours of light fading. Afterward, it undergoes a second AATCC 183 test and is rated. "So every garment we sell will be as UV-protected the last day you wear it as it was the first day," he says.
"Most of us have grown up with the notion that when it's hot and sunny you take clothing off," says Hubsmith. "And now we're trying to change people's behavior and say you should be putting clothing on, for two reasons: one, for UV radiation. The other is that if you shade your skin, you're actually going to stay cooler."
Will you be trying out UPF clothing this summer?
Meanwhile, don't miss this video below on the history of swimsuits.