Not All Clothing is Equal in Sun Protection

Not All Clothing is Equal in Sun Protection

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Shelley Osterloh ReportingWith skin cancer on the rise and Utah ranked fourth highest in the nation for melanoma, more and more people are trying to protect themselves from the damaging effects of the sun. There are a variety of new products out there, including clothing, that claim to protect from sunburns.

Sunburns contribute to skin cancer and doctors at the Huntsman Cancer Institute say children need protection from the sun the most.

Glen Bowen, MD, Huntsman Cancer Institute: "Most of the damage, about 80% of the damage that is done before we graduate from high school."

People who are fair skinned are most at risk.

Glen Bowen, MD, Huntsman Cancer Institute: "Doesn't mean you can't be outdoors, but we should dress more like our grandparents did, where they used a hat, they usually wore long sleeve shirts."

The latest trend in recreation clothing is sun protection, some even have a rating. Is one shirt better than another at blocking the sun?

Marc Holbrook, REI : "A fairly thin, white t-shirt, cotton t shirt, might give us a SPF of about five, even less if its wet. But by making the clothing tighter woven or thicker we block more UV rays. And believe it or not, color makes a difference."

And color is better than white. Marc Holbrook of REI says if an article of clothing has an SPF rating it likely means the clothing has been tested, not that it has had anything added to the fabric. But you can do a simple test yourself to see how sheer a fabric is.

Marc Holbrook: "Here's a good example. I can actually see my fingers through the fabric. That's a good test; that's not very much UV protection."

Or try putting the fabric up to a bright light. If you can see through it, try something else. Experts say clothing is the best protection, but sunscreen is important too, if you keep putting it on.

Glen Bowen, MD: "If they reapply the sunscreen at the lunch hour, they burn five times less frequently than people who just use it once in the morning. So pre-apply and reapply, those are the most important things about sunscreen."

The best sunscreens have a high SPF, and the newest improvement is the addition of zinc oxide or titanium, which add a physical barrier as well as a chemical one.

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