by Alexandra Nicole Nuralam

Debunked: Does Sun-Protective Clothing Really Work?

Image via @cookeandkin

In an ideal world, we would be diligent about sun protection all the time, making sure to slather our skin in sunscreen every day and reapplying every two hours. But for most people, it’s almost impossible to keep up with such a routine daily.

This is where sun-protective clothing comes in: It’s wearable protection that shields you from harmful UV rays and remains one of the most effective forms of protection against sun damage and skin cancer. Thanks to a surge in new brands and fabrics on the market, who says UPF clothing can’t be stylish and comfortable? The question is, does sun-protective clothing really work in protecting our skin?

We tap aesthetic doctor Dr Rachel Ho to get the answers and debunk some of the most common misconceptions surrounding sun protection. Let’s dive into it ahead.

Myth or Fact: Sun damage is not possible on windy, cloudy or cool days.

“Myth”, says Dr Rachel. “In Singapore, the UV index often reaches moderate to high levels on cloudy and cool days. Clouds and rain do not block out UV rays but instead, scatter the UV rays, so UV protection is still necessary.”

Myth or Fact: The higher the SPF value, the better.

This one is a definite fact. The higher the SPF value, the better the protection. It indicates how much longer a person can stay in the sun before getting sunburnt with relative to no sunscreen use. “An example is if a person’s skin turns red in 60 minutes with sunscreen use, but turns red in 2 minutes without sunscreen use; then the sunscreen’s SPF value is 60/2=30,” explains Dr Rachel.

Myth or Fact: You can stay out longer in the sun when you are wearing SPF50+ than you can with SPF30. 

Fact! Using sunscreen with SPF allows you to remain out in the sun for a longer time before you get sunburnt. “However, most people don’t apply enough sunscreen to get the full SPF value that’s labelled on their sunscreen,” says Dr Rachel. “I would recommend pairing sunscreen with clothes and accessories with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) to provide greater protection against UVA and UVB rays.

Myth or Fact: You can’t get sunburn in the car or at home.

This is mostly true since most glass windows block out at least 95% of UVB rays from the sun. UVB rays are the ones responsible for causing sunburns, so it is highly unlikely you will get sunburn from being indoors. However, UVA rays can reach your skin and cause skin cancer and accelerate signs of ageing, says Dr Rachel. This is because UVA rays have longer wavelengths and can pass through windows. So, the moral of the story: Always wear sunscreen!

Myth or Fact: We need to go out in the sun without sun protection for vitamin D. 

Myth. “Numerous studies have shown that long term and consistent use of sunscreen does not cause vitamin D deficiency,” she explains. “There are also many sources of vitamin D-rich food to naturally maintain levels of vitamin D in the body, such as fish and dairy products.”  

What is sun-protective clothing?

Sun-protective clothing acts as a barrier between you and the sun’s rays, much like sunscreen. “They contain a benzene ring in their biochemical structure that absorbs UV radiation,” explains Dr Rachel.  

UV protection clothing is especially helpful in keeping the exposed parts of the body like the neck and hands protected from UV rays throughout the day. This is because most people tend to neglect to apply or reapply sunscreen over exposed parts of the body.

What is the difference between SPF and UPF?

UPF, which stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, is an indicator of UV protection in clothing. SPF measures how well a sunscreen protects skin from UVB rays, while UPF measures how well a fabric protects skin against both UVA and UVB rays. The higher the UPF value, the better the protection.

Can regular clothing block UV rays?

Yes, your regular clothes can block some UV rays. According to Dr Rachel, most fabrics have a UPF rating of 4 to 7, but that allows a significant amount of UV rays to pass through and reach the skin. Here are some factors that influence UPF protection:

1. Fabrics like polyester, wool and silk are better at blocking out UV rays;
2. Darker colours offer better protection; and
3. Thicker fibres and knits are better than weaves with thin fabrics.

But of course, given the heat and humidity in Singapore, it’s almost impossible to wear thick, dark-coloured clothing. This is where UNIQLO’s UPF range comes in. Their UV Protection collection—which includes parkas, jackets, t-shirts, cardigans and hats—provides up to UPF 50+ protection, which blocks out at least 98% of UVA and UVB rays. These include UV light-reflecting fabric that either reflects UV radiation or absorbs UV light to protect the skin.

“What I also like about UNIQLO’s UPF clothing is that some of it also includes their AIRism technology, which makes it very breathable to wear throughout the day, especially in Singapore’s climate,” says Dr Rachel. With AIRism, you won’t have to worry about being uncomfortable since the range is made of moisture-wicking and breathable fabrics that dry fast, stretch and are cool to the touch.

Check out UNIQLO’s UV Protection Collection here.

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