Threads to Prevent Skin Cancer

Research from W.L. Morison (2003) “Photoprotection by Clothing”, 16(1), 16-22. doi:10.1046/j.1529-8019.2003.01603.x

As time moves on and research reveals more about how we can protect ourselves from solar damage, the tools in our photoprotective arsenal continue to grow. This includes our knowledge of how to identify changes to our skin as well as the evolving sophistication of clothes and how they can protect us.  

Compared to the prescriptive measures that need to be taken with some methods of sun safety, photoprotective clothing is a consistent measure that does not rely on time of day or thorough application.

Living in a Material World

It all comes down to the fibres on the clothing piece itself. Solar radiation can still penetrate gaps in the fibres and so the weave of the fabric is a consideration. In addition to this, the way the fibres absorb, and scatter radiation is included in the final UPF categorisation.

As polyester is a tightly woven fabric type, making it superior to cotton. Denim, being a tight and heavy fabric, makes it an excellent layer of photoprotection. But have no fear, cotton shouldn’t be deemed as ineffective for your sun safe wardrobe. Natural, unbleached cotton contains UV absorbing pigments – result!

Colour Me Curious…

Have no fear, it is a broad generalisation that darker colours provide more protection than pastels and lighter colours that grace the wardrobes of summer. It can be a matter of the type of dye used on clothing that provides UV absorption. However, it’s important not to be reliant on this, as dyes are diluted with washing and solar exposure will diminish their absorbing capabilities.

The definitive way that UV protection is added to material is using colourless compounds.  An example being titanium dioxide which is usually added to rayon and polyester. There are also fluorescent whitening agents that work best in absorbing UVA rays.

Protecting Your Protective Threads

Wearing tight fitting clothing to the skin is not a protective as wearing a looser fit. This is due to the potential of direct absorption of radiation between clothing and skin but also the stretching of the material. Stretching clothing impacts weave, creating larger holes between fibres which creates easy access for damaging rays to hit your skin.

However, it has been suggested that the wearing and washing of your clothing can increase the UPF of that item. This finding was hypothesised to be a result of the minimal shrinking that clothing can undergo when washed as well as the absorption of whitening agents in laundry detergent.

Whilst all clothing provides a degree of photoprotection there are properties to consider when determining clothing’s UPF. Regardless, when you see the UPF on an item’s label, be assured it will provide its stated protection to your skin. Due to the renewed interest in how clothing provides photoprotection, you can be sure to see more mentions of UPF as time goes on.

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