With Memorial Day -- summer's unofficial kickoff -- less than a week away, thoughts turn immediately to barbecues and ballgames, biking and boating, golf, tennis and long, languorous days at the beach.
Less time is spent thinking about the damage the searing solar rays wreak on our precious skin. "It's a constant battle to educate people on the importance of adequate and reasonable sun protection," says Dr. Doris Day, a New York dermatologist.
But fashion, which has always respected the elements, is here to help in an even bigger way this year. Some of the major trends culled from the runways of the spring/summer collections can offer more sun protection than ever before -- at least for women -- if worn properly and coupled with sunscreen, medical and fashion experts say.
"It's not like the usual tanks or short skirts," says Dr. Susan Chon, an assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which published an article about summer fashion and sun safety in its May newsletter.
"The trends on the runway this year offer a lot more skin coverage than in previous seasons," Chon says. "The kinds of clothing choices are actually beneficial as far as your skin health goes."
Long skirts and dresses, leggings (yes, even in summer), long-sleeve tunics, huge-brimmed hats, shawls, scarves, wide belts (a Michelle Obama staple) and enormous sunglasses all stood out on the catwalks, right alongside the one-piece bathing suits, this season.
"It speaks to the idea of investment dressing," says Jen Goodkind, co-host of "A Fashionable Life," a weekly radio show on fashion, beauty, health and style that airs on WGCH 1490-AM in Greenwich, Conn., and at fashionableliferadio.com.
"With the economy as it is, if you're going to wear something and make a statement," says Goodkind, who started her career as an accessories editor at Vogue, "make it big."
And big is good when it comes to sun safety.
More than 1 million skin cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. And 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancer and premature aging have been linked to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The summer-chic clothing shown on the runways in no way eliminates the need for sunscreen, which should have a sun protection factor of at least 15.
"These fashions don't necessarily give you full protection," Chon says. "They are great just for the low-level exposure you get walking around, running errands. But there's a lot of incidental light you get, say, when you're driving. Through the glass you're going to get a lot of the longer UVA rays."
Colors and fabrics are also important in creating a protective barrier between your skin and the sun. Whether you're shopping for leggings or a bathing suit, "the tighter the weave, and the darker the fabric, the better the protection -- whatever makes you maximally uncomfortable on a hot day," Day, the New York dermatologist, says.
Some bright colors, such as orange and red, offer higher ultraviolet protection from UVB rays -- the main cause of sunburn.
Keeping these caveats in mind, here's how you can tweak seven high-fashion trends for maximum sun protection and maximum chic.