I love the sun. I grew up in rainy Ireland where the sun paid its respects very rarely, so when it did, the country came to a halt to worship. The very idea of hiding oneself from the sun was preposterous. Sunscreen, sunhats, sunglasses, and cover-ups all gathered dust on store shelves while sand-buckets, bikinis, beer, and babyoil could not be kept in stock. We’d lay and play in the sun all day long, soaking it in for the rainy days to come. Several red-nose years later and I’m in midtown Manhattan, where a sunburned face prompts the same reaction as a drunken pregnant woman.
I know that sunburn can cause premature aging and even skin cancer. I’ve known for years, but somehow the knowledge that my white sundress looks best with a healthy tan took precedence in my brain. I was suffering from a severe case of listening-but-not-hearing-itis that came to a rude end after a recent visit to my dermatologist. Really, my dermatologist was quite rude in his evaluation of my bad habits and nonchalant attitude. I could have tried to blame the damage on the fact that we never wore sunblock as kids, but I’ve been negligent—even reckless—as an adult, and I knew it was finally time to take responsibility for my skin. Seeing a magnified picture of my damaged skin under an unforgiving fluorescent light shook me to the realization that it was finally time to hear, to really hear, statistics like that the chances are now one in seven that I’ll develop skin cancer in my lifetime; that one person dies of melanoma every hour, and that there’s no such thing as a “healthy” tan. Sigh.
Scary stats in mind, I don’t plan to cower indoors all Summer, fearing the almighty power of the sun. I’ve been stocking up on the latest creams, sprays, and lotions to keep the damaging rays at bay while I play. I’ve also been researching sun-protective clothing—an easy and reliable form of UV protection—and found that I don’t have to wear ankle-to-neck overcoats to protect myself on the beach (though I’d probably look a lot better if you could see less of me!)
Sun Slang 101.
UPF stands for Ultra Violet Protection Factor and the rating indicates how much of the sun’s radiation is absorbed. For example, a UPF50 rating indicates that only 1/50th of the sun’s UV rays can pass through the fabric.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it is usually applied to sun-screen lotions, lipsticks, and other protective products. SPF is a measurement of the amount of time you can stay in the sun without burning from UVB rays. So for example, if it usually takes your skin ten minutes to burn without any protection, then an SPF 15 buys you fifteen times the fun in the sun (10 x 15= 150 minutes). Don’t skimp on SPF, or watch the clock. Just use a high factor and apply it regularly, and please don’t neglect your ears and toes. Been there—ow—done that.
Sun Protective Clothing protects your skin from harmful UV rays. Australians have been wearing UPF clothing along with sunscreen for years, and the combination has proven a highly effective approach to skin cancer prevention. It’s only now starting to sink in for me—and the rest of the world—that sunscreen alone won’t save our skins.
As a general rule you can test the (in)effectiveness of your own clothing by simply holding it up to the light: that white sundress you slip on to run errands or to lounge by the pool is practically see-through, and therefore practically ineffective in blocking the sun. A long sleeved dark colored denim fabric however, works like a super-powered sunshield to keep the bad rays away.
I’m not planning to sweat my Summer days out in long-sleeved denim—oh no—I’ll be strutting my stuff in chemically-treated fabrics that have UPF built in, along with comfort, and occasionally, style.
The Style Nozone.
I’ve been shopping around and my honest evaluation is that there are not a whole lot of options out there yet for sun-sensible style. There’s plenty of active wear and hard-core-I-don’t-care-how-I-look-options, but there’s a scarcity of stylish sun protection. It seems everyone jumped on the sustainable style wagon and overlooked the sun-safe styles, but I’m certain the market will expand as public awareness increases.
I did manage to find a few simple-but-stylish options to look hot but stay cool—and safe—this Summer:
A Panama Hat is a stylish accessory to any summer outfit. This hat is rated UPF50+, and the 5” brim offers generous face and neck protection. I’ll wear this with a scarf and oversize glasses to look like a celeb in hiding.
A reversible sun hat is a practical and fashionable way to keep the UV rays at bay. This one has a 4” brim, it’s rated UPF50+, and it can be smushed up to live in your shoulder bag — so even when you forget your head, you won’t forget your sunhat. I like the neutral taupe/stone version to top off both my Summer whites and brights.
This Paper Braid wide brimmed hat is made from a blend of high-quality natural paper fibers, so it’s a “natural” choice for a lightweight sunshield. When I put my hat on, I want it to stay on, even at a windy beach, so I love that this safari-style hat comes with an adjustable tie to ensure both a good fit and a secure sit. It scores a hat-trick with a shady 4-1/2” brim, a UPF50 rating, and it’s water resistant to boot.
Shirt Before the Shovel.
Beach Tunic. At $85, this tunic is not cheap, but the simple and pretty style is very flexible. I’m buying it in white so that it can easily transition from beach to dinner. Solumbra’s SPF 30+ fabrics provide all-day UVA and UVB protection.
Embroidered Tunic Dress. You can look fabulous in this very pretty UV50+ embroidered dress and feel fabulous too, knowing that all proceeds benefit Live4Life, a non-profit organization devoted to melanoma research and education.
Classic T-shirt. Your average t-shirt has an SPF of 7, and while you may argue that it prevents a UVB burn (how else would you get that farmer’s tan?), it won’t keep those damaging UVA rays from your skin. I’m swapping out a few plain tees and swapping in some UV tees (I like the granite and white options) for a subtle safety swap.
Cover Your Ass(ets).
Capri pants. I wouldn’t exactly wear these shorts to a party or even a picnic, but I would wear them to hike, or sail, or garden—okay, I don’t have a boat or a garden so I’d wear them to hike now, and then have my butt covered (and sunsafe) for the day the invitation to sail or garden arrives.
Sun Sarong. I’m not sure I’m ready for the matching UV swim shirt and hat (although these are by far the most stylish sunsafe swim options I’ve seen yet), but I will at least take the babystep to add this sarong to my basic black bikini this Summer.
Titanium Beach Umbrella. There’s a dearth of stylish bottoms to keep my better half safe this Summer so I’m planning to camp out under this titanium beach umbrella. It’s much more stylish than those cheesy and flimsy numbers you rent at the beach and it blocks 98 percent UV rays while keeping me 15 degrees cooler than everyone else on the beach!
While it seems I can’t quite replace my whole wardrobe with sun-safe styles, at least not yet, I have at least found an easy and inexpensive cheat to looking good and staying safe this summer. I’m going to wash my worries away and wash sun protection in … by simply adding a pack of Sun Guard to my laundry load. One pack buys UPF 30 protection for up to twenty washings. This easy fix means I can still wear my favorite white sundress, only this time the golden tan will actually be a healthy one—it’ll come from a bottle.
Photo courtesy of 5starempty