By now you've embraced sunscreen (or so we hope), but as summer approaches, you may also want to consider covering up with sun-protective clothing -- and no, we're not talking about the safari-like suits of yesteryear. A growing number of brands are offering protective clothing that is both sun-safe and stylish. While many of the newer ones, including Mott50 and SummerSkin, were actually conceived with the style-conscious woman in mind, some contemporary favorites like J.Crew and Athleta have also caught on, creating collections designed specifically to protect the skin from the sun.
All with good reason, too: Statistics show that more people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S. than all other cancers combined. In fact, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. And if that's not enough, consider the fact that about 90 percent of premature aging is caused by UV exposure.
"There is no better protection for the skin than a physical barrier, like clothing, with SPF, especially since sunscreen only lasts for two hours before needing to be reapplied," says Candace Spann, MD, a dermatologist at Couture Dermatology and Plastic Surgery in Las Vegas, NV. "I recommend the Coolibar line most frequently to my patients, but there are a lot more brands that are recognizing the importance of including sun protection, and the clothing has become much more stylish in recent years."
So, what exactly is sun-protective clothing, and how does it work? Sun-protective clothing primarily works by blocking or absorbing ultraviolet radiation, explains Sejal Shah, MD, a cosmetic dermatologist andfounder of SmarterSkin Dermatology in New York City. "Ultraviolet protection factor [UPF] ratings are given to clothing after laboratory testing that takes into account the content, weight, color, added chemical agents, and construction of the fabric and indicates how much ultraviolet radiation can penetrate," she says. While your typical t-shirt only offers a UPF of around 5, clothing designed specifically for sun protection usually has a UPF 50+, blocking 98 percent of sun's harmful rays.
"Sunscreen is effective, but clothing can cover large areas, provide even protection, and does not require reapplication, so they should be used in conjunction," says Dr. Shah. "Cover as much as you can while still being comfortable, and use sunscreen on the exposed areas." This is the single most effective way of preventing sunburns and minimizing your risk of skin cancer. Just keep in mind that the protection provided by sun-protective clothing can decrease as the fabric wears.
Ahead, some sun-smart styles you'll want to wear. Each is cute and comfortably lightweight, but more importantly, offers a UPF 50+.