In my last post for this collective, we tackled a mini science lesson on decoding the not-so-straightforward sunscreen label in light of Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

I’m a mama and a pediatrician and a mega nerd, making matters of sun protection super important to me. All to say, you get to listen to me babble about sun safety a bit more.

It’s worth mentioning again that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S.

So, next official sunny topic? The exciting world of sun protective fabrics!

MORE Acronyms

Last month we dove into defining the sun-protective acronyms SPF, UVA, and UVB, learning how they relate to one another.

Now onto the newest sun acronym on the block, UPF. UPF, the Ultraviolet Protective Factor, is an analysis of spectral transmission quantifying how much UVA and UVB light permeates a material.

Or, in less geeky terms, UPF is the standard used to measure how effective a fabric is at broad spectrum sun protection.

Numbers Game

The degree of UPF protection is indicated in a fabric rating scale similar to SPF for sunscreens (although, remember from lesson #1 that SPF only provides UVB information vs UPF which includes both A and B!).

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, fabrics must have a UPF of 30 to qualify for their official stamp of approval, the Seal of Recommendation. Garments with a UPF lower than 15 aren’t considered significantly sun protective while a UPF of 50 is considered excellent.

A UPF of 50 blocks about 98% of the sun’s harmful rays, allowing just two percent (1/50th) through.

The Seal of Recommendation provides a straightforward, dependable way to ensure your purchases meet the testing criteria upheld by the Skin Cancer Foundation. Clothing lines granted the official Seal of Recommendation can be found on the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website here. And some of those companies also support sustainable practices, an environmental win-win!

UPF Influencers

All clothing protects our skin to some degree. I know, I know, I’m stating the obvious.

But just how much protection is based on several variables. To summarize, the following factors influence a fabric’s UPF rating.

Fabric density. This includes a fabric’s texture and tightness of the material’s weave. Generally speaking, thicker fabrics such as denim and corduroy significantly reduce UV transmission.

Fiber composition. Some fibers are better UV deflectors than others. Polyesters and nylons are usually good deflectors, while cotton and hemp usually absorb UV rays. A white, cotton shirt, for example, offers a UPF of only about 5. Allowing 20% of those harmful rays to pass through.

Fit & Stretch. Loose-fitting clothing offers more protection than tight, stretchy clothing. When fabric is stretched, larger gaps are created between fibers, allowing more light to sneak through. The more skin coverage the better. When possible, long sleeves and long pants are better choices.

Color. The darker and more vibrant your clothing is, the more protective. For instance, black, navy or red fabrics outperform white or pale colors. The more intense the color, the better! A fun excuse to go bright and bold.

The Whole Shebang

For the best UV protection, take a multifaceted approach. UPF clothing should be used with sunscreen. Don’t forget your UV glasses and wide-brim hat to further protect your eyes, head and neck. And always seek shade when possible.

With Colorado’s favorable weather and terrain, we’re lucky to enjoy the outdoors year-round. So, stock up on your sun protection essentials and teach your littles as you go. You’ll be making an investment of a lifetime.

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Paras is an Iranian American, born in Tehran and raised in Texas. She is now pleased to call Colorado home. She is the mother of two rambunctious boys, a wife to an equally rambunctious husband (genetics!) and a pediatrician. Paras attended medical school at the University of North Texas Health Science Center and went on to complete her pediatric residency training at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Her special interests include childhood advocacy, healthcare education, and she absolutely loves working with new parents. After having children of her own, she quickly realized that raising kiddos was not as straightforward as many pediatric medical texts or parenting books might imply! She has found it extremely fulfilling to navigate the challenging, yet rewarding world of being a working mom alongside her patients and peers. In her spare time, Paras enjoys hiking, embroidery and is an aspiring yogi on the journey to attaining and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.