Each year two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. It is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia – and it can be almost entirely prevented with good sun protection. Wearing sun protective clothing is the best way to protect your skin – after all, ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun can’t penetrate fabric, it stays in place, and it won’t wash off.
Clothing acts as a barrier between the skin and UVR from the sun. But not all clothing styles and fabrics are up to the task. With UV levels reaching extreme levels across WA this summer, it’s important that our clothing provides as much UVR protection as possible.
Fabric – UPF: Ultraviolet Protection Factor
A general rule for deciding a fabric’s ability to provide a barrier to UVR is to hold the fabric up to the sun or a fluorescent light. If you can see the light coming through, it will allow UVR to penetrate too. This test is only a rough guide, with the scientific measurement of fabric being the only true test of its protective factor.
This scientific measurement is known as the UPF rating, which provides information on how much UVR will pass through unstretched, dry material. For example, material with a UPF rating of 20 would only allow 1/20th (5%) of UVR falling on its surface to pass through it, therefore blocking 95% of UVR. A UPF rating of 15 is considered to provide ‘Minimum Protection’, a rating of 30 provides ‘Good Protection’, and ratings of 50 and 50+ provide ‘Excellent Protection’. Any fabric rated above UPF15 provides minimum protection against UVR, which is why UPF50+ is recommended.
There is a new Australian Sun Protective Clothing Standard (AS/NZS 4399:2017), which means that to be sun protective, clothing should also have certain body coverage. This includes: tops fully covering the shoulders and extending down to the hip line; sleeves that extend to at least as far as the three-quarter measurement between the shoulder point and the elbow; and bottoms that fully cover the body from the hip line to at least halfway between the crotch and the knee.
Look for these options, especially if you’re an outdoor worker or buying new school uniforms:
- Pick a collar. Shirts or tops with higher necklines that cover the upper chest and collarbones e.g. crew necks or collared shirts with a buttoned-up, closed neck line. Some polo shirts have good collars but leave the delicate areas on the upper chest and neck exposed to UV when the buttons are undone, so try to button up.
- Go long. Choose longer-style sleeves – at least to the elbows or three-quarters if possible. Longer style shorts/trousers/dresses/skirts are also best. They should at least cover most of the thigh but preferably reach the knee.
- Try some sleeves. These are great for driving, gardening, playing sport, or a picnic in the park.
It’s important to choose clothing that covers as much skin as possible, but still allows ventilation to keep the body cool.
Don’t forget the rashie
If the UV Index is 3 or above and you’re hitting the water, a long-sleeved rashie, swim suit or paddle suit are a must. Sunscreen isn’t always great in the water, so covering the skin with a rashie is crucial.
Which type of hat?
Cancer Council recommends hats that provide good shade to the face, back of the neck and ears when outdoors.
Suitable hats include:
- Broad-brimmed hats with a brim of 6cm for children or 7.5cm for older students and adults.
- Bucket hats with a brim of 6cm.
- Legionnaire hats with a front peak and back flap that overlap at the sides to protect the ears.
Baseball or peak caps do not provide enough protection and are not recommended.
When selecting a hat, also consider:
- Fabric – ensure fabrics are not too heavy to keep heads cool
- Colours – consider a reversible hat with faction colours
- Design – hats face a lot of wear and tear, especially from kids! Rigid brims may not look so great after being repeatedly shoved in school bags. Soft, scrunchable hats might be preferable.
For the best level of protection from UVR, use all five sun protection measures: clothing, sunscreen, a hat, shade and sunglasses.