Choosing Sun-Protective Clothing

Here’s a daunting statistic. Researchers estimate that one in every five Americans will get skin cancer.

One in five. That’s an awful lot of people.

Honestly, I’ll probably be one of the unlucky ones. I’m fair-skinned. I went to the beach A LOT growing up. I’ve had too many sunburns to count, including a few that left me with blisters.

So these days I’m fairly diligent about using sunscreen before I go out to play tennis. And I know the drill: Water-resistant sunscreen, applied fifteen minutes before going out. One teaspoonful to cover the face. A shotglass-full for the body.

Only no matter what sunscreen I use, it’s always running in white rivulets down my chest after I start playing. Ever see Nadal play, with the sweat dripping off his nose like a leaky faucet? I’m not quite that bad, but I’m not a pretty picture.

I should reapply, right? But how can your skin absorb the sunscreen if sweat is continuing to pour out of your pores?

I had a routine skin check in September one year, after a summer of outdoor tennis. The dermatologist looked askance at my patchwork of skin colors and asked if I used sunscreen. I told her about my sweaty troubles.

“Yes, you have a lot of sweat glands,” she said. [I know: Ew.] “You’re probably never going to get good protection from a sunscreen. You need to just cover up.”

Being a sensible, health-conscious woman, I immediately thought, “Cover up? Like…with long sleeves? And a high neckline? But…what about my cute outfits?”

Eventually I did come around to buying a long sleeve, crew-neck shirt. I didn’t love it. At all. The brand was Bloq. Probably it’s effective. But it looks dorky (on me, anyway), doesn’t drape well, and turns into a wrinkly mess if I stash it in my tennis bag. Surely there’s a better brand out there, and when I find it, I’ll be posting about it.

While I search for a top I’ll actually wear, I thought I’d give you all a rundown on what I learned about sun-protective clothing.

  • Any clothing can give you at least some sun protection. For ordinary clothes, hold it up to the light. If you can easily see through it, it’s not giving you much protection. If it’s denim, you’re good to go. (Have fun wearing that denim jacket on the tennis court.)
  • According to the non-profit Skin Cancer Foundation, lustrous, synthetic fabrics like polyester help reflect the sun’s rays.
  • Darker colors will provide more protection than light-colored clothes. Color absorbs UV rays. The more saturated the color, the more protection.
  • Some clothing manufacturers add chemical sun protection to their product lines. The UPF rating indicates how much protection a garment gives. While SPF for sunscreen measures protection by minutes, UPF measures protection in terms of the fraction of rays reaching your skin. A UPF of 30 means only 1/30th of the sun’s UV rays will get through the clothing.
  • Look for clothing brands awarded the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. These include Coolibar, Under Armour, and LL Bean. (Actually, one of the LL Bean shirts looks kind of cute…)

Supposedly you can wash regular clothes with a laundry additive called Sun Guard, which promises to boost their sun-blocking power. I haven’t tried this product, but it does carry the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal.

Of course, you should also be wearing a hat with a 3-inch brim and protection for the back of your neck and your ears. Yeah, I’m probably not going to do that, either. But we should at least wear a visor. It can be tough to get used to serving with a hat on, but remember:

One in five.

That’s a scary stat.


How concerned are you about your sun exposure? Can you recommend any sun-protective clothing brands…or a water-resistant sunscreen that can stand up to Nadal-level sweat???

4 thoughts on “Choosing Sun-Protective Clothing

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  1. As I was reading, I was thinking about how excited I was to recommend L.L Bean…and then you beat me to it! Point for you. 🙂

    But on the skin cancer statistic: I’m also fair and grew up on the beach. Back then, we slathered ourselves in baby oil with iodine added (why, exactly?) and didn’t know the “healthy tan” was anything but.

    Still, while the statistic sounds horrific, I’ve already had a basal cell carcinoma removed as well as a pre-melanoma. Is the stat just that people will get akin cancer? An excellent dermatologist with a reputation for skin checks is a necessity! Get skin checks every year. Keep an eye on particular dark spots (snap a set of selfies to help you remember the size, shape and location). Take care of any spot removals that are necessary. Use sunscreen. Wear the visor. It’s not that difficult to deal with skin cancer. It’s just important not to stick your head in the sand and hope spots go away.

    If you want to do more, learn about the spots worth worrying about. I recall it’s ABC: asymmetrical, border, color, or something like that. It’s on the Skin Cancer Foundation website.

    Enjoy the sun — and keep that nice, healthy ghostly white look.

    1. Yes, the stat is just the percentage of people who will get skin cancer–not melanoma in particular. Still, it’s a pretty stark number.

      There’s also a “D” for diameter. And as I recall, they recently added an “E.” Elevation? Somebody google that…

      I like the idea of photographing your moles.

      I do NOT like the idea of the “healthy ghostly white look.” Maybe I need to do another blog on self-tanners.

  2. I’ve definitely seen Serena wear denim on the court. But she’s Serena and we’re, us.

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