How much sun protection do clothes offer?

Sunburned in a Sweatshirt: How Much Protection Do Clothes Offer?

Long days. Warm breezes. Cold beer. The casual streetwear you pull on for a patio happy hour. There are so many things about summer that are glorious. But peeling skin isn’t one of them. Unfortunately, sunburns happen - from a day gardening to a game of volleyball, we burn, we hurt, we say “hello” to aloe. Of course, there’s good news: sunburns are largely avoidable and you don’t need to stay inside behind blackout curtains in order to sidestep their vengeance. Sunscreen helps, naturally, but the clothes you wear count too. A long-sleeve shirt or a white lightweight hoodie? They practically come dermatologist-recommended.
When choosing the best clothes for sun-filled days, consider:

The color of your outfits: Dark colored-clothing often gets a bad rap in hot weather: it invites the sun to shine its spotlight on the back of your black polo shirt. Yet dark clothes are more efficient when it comes to UV protection. Shirts that are red, navy, black, or bright absorb more rays than anything white or pastel. The more color a shirt has, the more blocking it does. And now you know why Wednesday Adams always looks so pale.

The quality: It’s a given that quality is important in terms of clothing; no one wants to buy a cotton t shirt only to have it unravel in the Whirlpool the first time you wash it. Quality also matters for sun protection. Dense, tightly-woven fabrics make excellent barriers; so do those that are synthetic or semisynthetic (like rayon). Thinner clothes, such as silk, are limited in their abilities to stop much of anything. Go ahead and gauge an outfit’s potential yourself - if the material is slight enough where light shines through, it’ll let rays shine through as well.

The fit: Another factor is how your clothes fit - the tighter the outfit, the less protection it offers. When clothing is taut, it stretches the fabric, making it thinner (and more penetrable) in the process. Still, this doesn't mean that baggy is always better. If a shirt is so loose that it hangs off the shoulder or low on the collar bone, it’ll expose the skin underneath, offering you no defense whatsoever. Make sure you’re covered - blistered shoulders are so 1980s. 

Whether the clothing is dry: Fabric’s ability to fend off UV rays decreases when it gets wet, which means the drier your clothes, the stronger the shield. Wet clothing works against you another way by providing a false sense of security - the water feels cool against your skin so you’re unaware that you’re getting burned. Going for a thirty-minute jog in a sweat-soaked t-shirt probably won’t hurt you but refrain from hanging out poolside in a damp cover-up.

Clothes certainly provide you protection (protection from the sun and from an indecent exposure ticket), but they’re not a substitute for sunscreen. To save your skin from any potential damage, dress up and lather up, too.
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