Seasonal health Sunburn through clothes - what you need to know March 01 2022
Johanna Young Johanna Young Sun-safe ambassador

As the weather starts to warm up, it’s time to turn your attention to skin protection. Most people understand the need to wear sunblock or SPF protective moisturiser. But did you know you can also get burnt through your clothes?

Ever slopped sunscreen onto your neck and forearms, assuming your t-shirt had the rest covered?

Well, it could be letting you down. When it comes to summer clothing, not all your ‘ts’ are created equal. Choose the wrong one on a hot summer’s day and you could end up burning right through.

Two friends having fun in the sun

Every burn matters

Us Aussies are known for spending our long summers outside – picnicking, cricketing and beaching. Who can blame us? While this lifestyle boosts our health in so many ways, it can be detrimental in others. Just one bad sunburn can impact your skin for a lifetime.

Skin cancer is described as Australia’s ‘national cancer’, but it’s one of the most preventable. Proper sun protection is essential in the fight against skin cancer – especially melanoma ¬– and premature ageing. And with the right gear under your belt, it isn’t hard to strengthen your defences.

Our fabrics are failing us

What’s the UPF rating of your summer wardrobe? If, like most Australians, you’ve no idea what UPF is, let alone how your clothes stack up, this next part may come as a shock.

UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. It’s a rating system that measures the amount of ultraviolet (UV) protection provided by fabric – similar to the SPF rating used for sunscreens.

Now here’s where things get really scary. A standard white t-shirt or hat is roughly equal to wearing sunscreen with SPF5.

So, what to wear?

Most fabrics will give you a degree of sun protection but some pieces in your wardrobe will work harder for you on a sunny day than others. Here’s what to reach for:

  • A tight knit or weave
    The tighter the fabric’s woven, the better – think merino wool and denim.
  • Shiny synthetic fabrics
    Think acrylic, polyester, nylon, lycra and rayon, but viscose is one to avoid.
  • Dark colours
    Darker colours absorb more UV rays, giving them a higher UPF rating than their lighter-coloured counterparts.
  • Thickness and weight
    It’s probably not what you feel like throwing on, but thick, heavy materials are your friends on sunny days.
  • Clothes without stretch
    That means swapping out your activewear when things heat up.
  • Something dry
    When fabric gets wet, its UPF rating tends to decrease.
  • Nothing too shabby
    As your clothes get older and start to deteriorate, so does their UPF rating.
  • Long sleeves
    The more skin you can cover with high UPF clothing, the safer you’ll be. Think long sleeves, long pants and broad-brimmed hats.
  • Dress for success
    The highest sun-protective clothing you can buy today is a whopping UPF50+. These clothes block about 98% of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Slip into one of these and it’s like wearing a SPF50+ broad-spectrum sunscreen all day long without ever needing to reapply. Winning.
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Johanna Young Johanna Young Sun-safe ambassador Johanna is the Co-Founder of SOLBARI, an Australian brand that specialises in UPF50+ sun protective clothing, swimwear, hats and accessories. SOLBARI has customers in over 45 countries and supports a number of Skin Cancer Foundations and Not-For-Profit Australian Melanoma Charities. Prior to establishing SOLBARI, Johanna spent over 10 years in financial services in London, Geneva and Melbourne