Clothing That Can Protect You From Skin Cancer

Good Housekeeping tested how well clothing protects people from UV rays.

June 13, 2007 — -- The official start of summer is less than two weeks away and families will spend more time in the sun. We all know it's important to protect ourselves from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, and now there are many clothes with labels claiming to offer UV protection.

The Good Housekeeping Research Institute's Textiles Department wondered whether the UV claims were accurate, so it put the clothing to the test.

Clothes With UV Claims

Most clothes offer very little protection from UV rays. For instance, a white cotton T-shirt has the equivalent sun protection factor (SPF) of 5 to 7. (Remember: SPF ratings only pertain the protection from UVB rays, which cause burns, and not UVA rays, which penetrate the skin and cause wrinkles.) And when a T-shirt is wet, it loses about a third of its sun protection.

Some clothes, however, claim to have extra UV protection. There is no government standard set to define UV-protective clothing, but the industry does have voluntary standards. According to those regulations, a clothing maker can't claim a garment is UV-protective unless its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (or UPF) score (located on the item's tag) falls on the following scale: 15 to 24: Good UV Protection 25 to 39: Very Good Protection 40 or higher: Excellent Protection

But Good Housekeeping says those claims aren't as closely monitored as they would be if compliance with the rules were mandatory. So some companies may be labeling their clothes inaccurately.

Good Housekeeping sent 15 items from nine brands to an independent laboratory, Vartest Laboratories in New York City. Following industry standards, each piece was evaluated twice: once before washing, then again after 40 washes and other treatments, measuring how much ultraviolet light passed through the fabrics.

Good Housekeeping also found quite a few items that passed its tests with accurate UV claims and had Very Good or Excellent protection due to their fabrics and weaves. They included:

Clothes with UPF of 40+ or 50+ (Excellent protection)

L.L. Bean Tropicwear shirt ($39.00)

Lands' End Performance knit tee shirt ($19.50)

Sunsafe classic shirt ($62.00)

Coolibar Beach shirt ($60.00)

Clothes with UPF of 30+ (Very Good protection)

ExOfficio Exo Dri Pointelle V tee shirt ($30.00)

Outdoor Research Venture pants ($65.00)

Laundry Treatments

None of the clothes Good Housekeeping tested had special chemical treatments for UV protection. Those treatments tend to be in more expensive clothing lines and most UV-protective clothes are not chemically treated. Their sun protection comes from the fabric and the weave -- often, tightly-woven polyester.

As a rule, if you can hold clothes up to the light and can't see through them, you'll have better sun protection than if you can see through them.

Good Housekeeping also recommends a laundry rinse product called Rit SunGuard ($1.99 for one box, or $11.94 for a 6-pack of one-ounce boxes; each box is good for one wash), which can add extra UV protection to your cotton, linen and rayon clothes.

The institute found it to be effective and it has been approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Rit SunGuard helps block more than 96 percent of the sun's UV rays from reaching your skin and boost the UPF protection of your clothes to 30. You add one package of SunGuard to a warm or hot water laundry load along with laundry detergent.

The Rit SunGuard penetrates your clothes' fibers so the clothes will absorb UV light. It's safe for children's clothes and for people with sensitive skin. One treatment provides protection for up to 20 washings.

Rit SunGuard is sold through the company's Web site, and at stores including WalMart and Walgreens.

For more information on the test results, click here.

Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is strongest.

Wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt and long pants when you're in the sun.

Choose tightly woven materials for the best protection from the sun.

Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and reapply at least every two hours.

Remember to wear sunscreen even when it's overcast.

Wear sunglases that block at least 99 percent of UV radiation.