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Be Safe in the Sun

By Linda Manikowske, Associate Professor, Department of Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management, NDSU

Sara Sunderlin, Senior Lecturer, Department of Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management, NDSU

When you are playing hard in the sun, keep sun protection in mind.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only a few seri­ous sunburns can increase your risk of skin cancer later in life. You don’t have to be at the pool or the beach to get too much sun. Skin needs protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays whenever you are outdoors.

How does sunlight put our skin at risk? In addition to visible light, sunlight includes invisible ultraviolet radia­tion. UVA rays cause premature aging of the skin and impact skin during any hour of daylight, even through the clouds.

UVB rays cause sunburn and the most impact during midday. Both types of radiation weaken the body’s im­mune system in addition to causing cancer. An estimated 1 million skin cancer cases are diagnosed annually in the U.S.; the majority are of these are sun-related.

The good news is that you can prevent UV radiation from hurting you and your family. Teaching children to practice smart sun habits while they are young will help them stay sun-safe their entire life.

Sunscreen and clothing offer the best forms of sig­nificant UV protection. All fabrics offer some protection, but clothing that offers the most protection carries an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) value, a rating system used for apparel. More and more outdoor cloth­ing carries this rating.

UPF gauges a fabric’s ef­fectiveness against both UVA and UVB radiation. UPF ratings range from 15 (good) to 50+ (excel­lent). A UPF rating of 50 would indicate that the fabric in a garment will allow one-fiftieth or 2 per­cent of available UV radiation to pass through it. 

That makes some fabrics more effective than others? The following factors make a difference:

  • Construction – Dense, tightly woven or knitted fabrics minimize space between the yarns that allow light to pass through.
  • Color – Darker colors of the same fabric type will absorb more UV radiation than light colors.
  • Fiber content – Polyester and nylon are good, wool and silk are moderate, and cotton and other cellulose natural fibers score low unless they have added treatments.
  • Stretch – When garments are stretched 10 percent beyond normal dimensions, space between yarns widen and the effectiveness may be reduced up to 40 percent.
  • Wetness – A fabric’s protection is reduced up to 50 percent when wet. For example, a white T-shirt would provide a UPF of 3 when it is wet.

Test methods have been developed to calculate a fabric’s UPF rating. The Federal Trade Commission monitors advertising claims. Most manufacturers follow the standards and test methods to label their garments.

UPF-rated clothing may not always be necessary, but it adds a good measure of protection when worn in areas with increased UV intensity, such as high elevations or regions close to the equator, or when close to reflective surfaces such as water, sand or snow.

A strategy for overall protection includes the use of sunscreen, wearing UV-protective clothing and limiting the amount of time you expose yourself to the sun’s radiation. Here are some tips for the best protection:

  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 15 30 minutes before going outdoors. Don’t forget noses, ears, lips and the tops of feet.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect the eyes. Look for styles that block as close to 100 percent of both UVA and UVB rays as possible.
  • Choose a hat that shades the face, scalp, ears and neck. You can find fun styles that offer great protection.
  • Cover up with clothing to provide the most protection for sun-sensitive skin.
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