24 November 2009

Protective clothing: FAQs

Hats, umbrellas, cotton shirts. Can these really protect you from the sun? Brush up on the facts about protective clothing with these frequently asked questions.


Hats, umbrellas, cotton shirts. Can these really protect you from the sun? Brush up on the facts about protective clothing with these frequently asked questions.

Q: What kinds of clothing best protect my skin from UV rays?

A: Clothing that covers your skin protects against the sun's UV rays. Loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts and long pants made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. A wet T-shirt offers you much less UV protection than does a dry one.

If wearing this type of clothing isn't practical, at least try to wear a t-shirt or a beach cover-up. Keep in mind, however, that a typical t-shirt actually has an SPF rating substantially lower than the recommended SPF 15, so double-up on protection by using sunscreen with at least SPF 15 (and UVA and UVB protection) and staying in the shade when you can.

Q: Does protective clothing have to be a certain colour?

A: Wearing clothing made of tightly-woven fabric is best for protecting your skin, regardless of the colour. Darker colours, though, may offer more protection than lighter colours.

Q: It gets so hot here in the summer, there's no way I could be comfortable in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. So, what else can I do to protect my skin?

A: Protecting yourself from the sun's UV rays doesn't have to be a major chore; it's just a matter of knowing your options and using them. Wearing a dry T-shirt is a good start, but it is not enough if you are going to be outside for more than a few minutes.

If you can't wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, you can boost your protection by seeking shade whenever possible and by always wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 15.

Q: Will a hat help protect my skin? Are there recommended styles for the best protection?

A: Hats can help shield your skin from the sun's UV rays. Choose a hat that provides shade for all of your head and neck. For the most protection, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck.

If you choose to wear a baseball cap, you should also protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing that covers those areas, using sunscreen with at least SPF 15, or by staying in the shade.

Q: For the best protection, what material should I look for in a hat?

A: A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best to protect your skin from UV rays. When possible, avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through.

Q: Does the colour of my hat matter?

A: The amount of shade offered by a particular hat appears to be its most important prevention characteristic. If a darker hat is an option, though, it may offer even more UV protection.

Q: Are sunglasses an important part of my sun protection plan?

A: Yes. Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.

Q: What type of sunglasses best protects my eyes from UV rays?

A: Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.

Q: Is there any particular time I should try to stay in the shade?

A: The sun's UV rays are strongest and do the most damage during midday, so it's best to avoid direct exposure between 10:00am and 3:00pm. You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree, or other shelter before you need relief from the sun.

Q: I work outdoors all summer and can't stay in the shade. What can I do to protect my skin?

A: If you can't avoid the sun, you can protect your skin by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, wraparound sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants. You can also wear a sunscreen and lipscreen with at least SPF 15 and UVA and UVB protection and reapply according to the manufacturer's directions. When you can, take your breaks and your lunch in the shade.

Q: If I stay in the shade, should I still use sunscreen and wear a hat?

A: UV rays can reflect off virtually any surface (including sand, snow and concrete) and can reach you in the shade. Your best bet to protect your skin and lips is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you're outside - even when you're in the shade.

Read more: Know your skin cm x cm

(Information supplied by the Cancer Association of South Africa,


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Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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