As the temperature rises and beautiful weather entices you to head outdoors for hours of fun in the sun, it’s important to protect your skin beyond just applying some Coppertone lotion. Harsh UV rays can do both temporary and more permanent damage, so you should do all you can to minimize exposure and reduce the negative effects of spending more time outside in the sun.
UV Resistant Clothes
What you wear outside can help shield your skin from sun damage. There are a variety of things to consider, when deciding what to put on before going outdoors.
Some advice is obvious – more coverage is better. Longer sleeves and pant legs shield your body from the sun better than short ones. Hats with wider brims that go all the way around your head (3 inches or more) are better than baseball caps to shade your face, neck and ears.
Tight Weave Fabrics
Other recommendations, however, you might not think of right away. For instance, the type of fabric used in a shirt, skirt or pants makes a difference. Most woven fabrics absorb some UV radiation, as gaps between the fibers allow light waves to penetrate the cloth. Consequently, tighter synthetic weaves like lycra, acrylic, polyester and nylon provide more protection than many looser woven natural fibers like cotton and linen. A good rule of thumb is to wash natural fiber clothing 2-3 times to shrink the spaces in the weave.
Finish, Weight & Color
Additionally, shiny fabrics tend to reflect sunlight better than matte finished ones. Likewise, heavier clothes often have more woven layers that fill in many of the gaps and prevent UV rays from penetrating all the way to your skin. Bright bold colors tend to be better at reflecting the sun than pale or light colored clothing. However, some white fabrics are treated with special “optical whitening agents” that absorb UV rays. Similarly, there are laundry detergents that coat clothing in microscopic crystals that repel UV light.
Read the Label
Nowadays, most clothing has a UPF rating on the label. This stands for ”Ultraviolet Protection Factor” and represents the degree of the sun’s UV rays that penetrate the fabric, as determined by the standards board of ASTM International. For example, if a blouse is rated as UPF 50, it means that only 1/50th of the UV rays penetrate the cloth and reach your skin. Ideally, most outdoor clothing should have a minimum of UPF 30.
Extended and frequent unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause medical issues now and into the future. Sunglasses are one way to minimize the negative effects of the sun.
Your skin isn’t the only thing that you should safeguard when spending time outside – your eyes are also vulnerable to short and long term damage from extended unprotected exposure to the sun. Just like when you discover your left arm is painful and red after absent-mindedly leaving it dangling out the driver side window on a long trip, you can essentially sunburn your eyes if you’re not careful. Medically referred to as photokeratitis, this condition can cause redness, sensitivity and a gritty sensation (like there’s something in your eye). Repeated UV exposure can lead to cataracts, muscular degeneration, cancer of the eyelids and pterygium (a.k.a. surfer’s eye).
The Future’s So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)
Unintentionally, 80’s one hit wonder Timbuk 3 had sound medical advice for people who love enjoying the great outdoors for hours at a time. Sunglasses are great for reducing glare, making it easier to see in the bright light and, of course, looking cool. But they also can (notice that I didn’t say “do”) protect your eyes from the damaging rays of the sun. Not all sunglasses are created equal, although most lenses now block both UV-A and UV-B rays. When comparing brands and models of sunglasses, look for ones that screen at least 75 to 90% of the visible light. Large, close fitting or wraparound models tend to be more effective than smaller versions, since they do a better job of blocking light from the sides. Darker and uniform colored lenses are more consistent in their protection that lighter or graded colors.
Outdoor Patio Umbrellas and Shades
When you’re hanging out at your pool or deck under an outdoor umbrella, you might think you’re safely protected from getting a sunburn or worse – you are, but not as much as you think. Patio umbrellas with canopies made from UV protected fabrics do block most of the harmful rays of DIRECT sunlight. However, depending on your environment, there are many factors that increase the intensity of INDIRECT sunlight that still reaches your skin.
Ultraviolet radiation can reflect off the atmosphere or surfaces so the less your exposure to either the better. But what does that mean? The atmosphere that we can see is essentially the sky, so the less of the sky you are exposed to the safer you are. Surfaces like water, sand, glass or cement intensify indirect UV light waves. That’s why it’s so much easier to get burned at the beach, pool or in many urban settings.
You’ve Got it Covered with Umbrellas (Partially)
With patio umbrellas, like clothing and sunglasses, bigger tends to do a better job than smaller, since large parasols hide more of the sky. However, every residential or commercial environment is different and requires a shade solution that addresses its specific circumstances. There are so many types of outdoor umbrellas that it’s helpful to do a little research before buying one. In addition to size, a critical consideration for umbrella sun protection is the type of fabric used for the canopy. The same rules apply for canopies as for clothing. Synthetic materials, like acrylics, are usually denser and provide greater safety from ultraviolet light. Premium outdoor textile brands like Sunbrella block nearly 100% of the UV rays from direct sunlight and are certified safe by the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Throwing Shade (In a Good Way)
If you have a much more open area, like a beachfront property or urban rooftop pool, you should consider additional shade options to cut down on the indirect sunlight. Cabanas are a great way to cover a large area, especially if you have outdoor lounge furniture like sofas and oversized chairs. These tent-like structures provide sun coverage over a wide area and often come with batyline mesh drapes, which filter much of the light coming from the sides. Additionally, they may have heavy curtains that match the canopy, which you can close. Not only will this block virtually all of the direct and indirect UV light from outside, it provides privacy and mutes unwanted noise, so you can have a normal conversation without having to shout.
And Yes, Don’t Forget Sunscreen
Regardless of how well you follow the above recommendations for minimizing the negative effects of the sun’s UV rays, never forget to keep hydrated and apply plenty of high SPF sunscreen. Remember to reapply after swimming, sweating or taking off and putting on clothing. Sunscreen is only effective if it’s on evenly and consistently throughout the time you’re outdoors. Using sunscreen and following our tips above, should give you peace of mind, allowing you to enjoy your time with family and friends under the sun this summer.