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Is sun-protective clothing worth the money?

Sun-protective clothes can keep harmful UV rays from burning your skin.

You might be under the impression that merely throwing on a t-shirt at the beach will protect you from the sun’s rays. And you’re rightfor the most part.

While keeping your skin covered is obviously better than walking around in a bathing suit, not all clothing is created equal. You could be clothed from head-to-toe and still not be protected from UV rays, as the sun can easily penetrate specific materials. That’s where sun protective clothing comes in.

The clothes you wear are made from many different fabrics, and sometimes a blend of a few. But if you put any fabric under a microscope, you’ll see lots of spaces between the fibers. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UV rays can pass directly through these holes to reach the skin, putting you at risk for sunburn and other skin damage. But the tighter the knit or weave of the fabric, the fewer UV rays that can pass through.

That’s why some clothing companies have created sun protective clotheswearable products that claim to shield you from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays with built-in protection, says Prevention magazine. A piece of clothing’s usefulness depends on its UPF rating, which is essentially SPF for clothes.

Amy Brodsky, MD, an Illinois-based dermatologist and spokeswoman for the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, told Prevention magazine that the UPF rating is based on the weight, color, and construction of the fabric. A shirt with a UPF of 70 allows 1/70th of the sun’s UV rays to pass through.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends wearing clothing with at least UPF 30. Synthetic and semi-synthetic fibers (such as polyester and rayon) offer the highest sun protection, while refined and bleached cotton or crepe offers the least (a white cotton t-shirt only has a UPF of about five).

When you’re shopping, be sure to check the label for the clothing’s UPF rating (you’ll only see ratings above UPF 15anything below is not considered UV-protective). But REI warns you to take note of a few things that could affect a UPF rating:

  • Garments that are too tight can be less effective than looser-fitting clothing.
  • Many materials’ UPF rating drops when wet. Polyester is the exceptionsome studies show it might actually be more effective when wet.
  • As fabric fades, its ability to block UV light also fades.

When all else fails, you can increase your clothes’ UPF by washing with a laundry additive like Sun Guard’s RIT , says the Skin Cancer Foundation. It can raise the UPF of a cotton shirt to about 30.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is committed to the health and well-being of our viewers, which is why we initiated Sinclair Cares. Every month we’ll bring you information about the “Cause of the Month,” including topical information, education, awareness, and prevention. July is UV Awareness Month.