Research shows that just five serious sunburns can greatly increase a child's risk of developing skin cancer later in life. During the hot summer months, it's a good time to take stock of how parents can best protect their children's skin.
One product getting a lot of buzz is sun protective clothing.
Nnenna Agim, M.D., Division Director of Dermatology at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern, shares how sun protective clothing works and tips for parents to keep their children's skin healthy all year long.
What is sun protective and UPF clothing?
Sun protective clothing protects the skin from damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays and against sunburn. It is manufactured by using a tighter weave or with a special thread that scatters UV rays and prevents them from hitting the skin.
Clothing is rated similarly to sunscreen, but by "UPF", which stands for "ultraviolet protection factor" instead of the more familiar "SPF" (sun protection factor). UPF refers to how many UV rays can pass through clothing and get to skin. For example, a shirt with a UPF rating of 70 means the clothing blocks 70% of the sun's ultraviolet rays.
"All clothing offers some level of protection against the sun, but sun protective clothing offers far more protection against UV rays," explains Dr. Agim. "A white, cotton shirt has a UPF rating of about seven, which means it only blocks out 7% of the sun's UV rays. Compare that to a shirt with a UPF of 70, or even 30, and it's easy to see how much better sun protective clothing can help protect the skin."
Does sun protective clothing work and how long does it last?
"Sun protective clothing is very effective," says Dr. Agim. "It's just important to keep a few things in mind when wearing sun protective clothing and caring for it."
While UPF doesn't wear off like sunscreen, which needs to be applied every two hours, after toweling off or getting in the water, consumers should keep in mind that while wet, UPF is usually cut in half.
"A shirt with a UPF of 70 is still going to offer adequate protection when swimming in a pool or lake, but the protection is cut down by about half," she explains.
Dr. Agim also recommends parents read manufacturers' instructions carefully to learn how to properly wash the clothing and how long the garment will last.
How else can I protect my child from the sun?
Sun protective clothing is just one way to protect skin. Dr. Agim recommends parents put as many layers between the skin and the sun as possible, and that starts with .
"I highly recommend everyone wear sunscreen, even if they are wearing sun protective clothing throughout the day," she says. "Sun protective clothing creates one layer between the skin and the sun," she explains. "That means putting on sunscreen every day, wearing sun protective clothing, a hat and sunglasses, and staying in the shade as much as possible along with sun protective clothing, all contribute to a safer sun experience."
Dr. Agim and her team work exclusively with children, so they understand the challenges parents face when convincing kids to slather on sunscreen. Her simple advice is something all parents should keep in mind. "Make putting on sunscreen part of your everyday routine," she recommends. "When wearing sunscreen is like brushing teeth, making the bed or getting dressed, then it becomes routine and quickly accepted and something they know they can't fight every day."
She also encourages parents to set an example. "When our children see us wearing sunscreen, they understand the importance even more."
Where can I find sun protective clothing for kids?
Sun protective clothing is becoming more widely available through major retailers and clothing brands, making it easy to find online. Dr. Agim also carries catalogues in her office for parents to review. Some brands even offer sun protective accessories such as blankets.
"Sun protective clothing has come a long way in a few years," she says. "It looks more and more like a standard swimsuit or clothes you would wear on a typical day."
Another way to boost sun protection with the clothes kids wear is to add SunGuard, a laundry additive that can add UPF protection to regular clothes. The protection is temporary and usually comes out after about 20 washes. SunGuard can be found online and at several major retailers.
If you have any questions about how you can keep your child's skin healthy, contact the Dermatology department at Children's Health.
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