Sun-protective apparel made trendy

Trendy and safe do not always go hand-in-hand. Safety goggles, helmets, and elbow pads might never be the "in" thing, but this summer, safe is sexy with clothing that offers UPF protection. The trend began in Australia, where growing skin cancer concerns created a demand for innovative ways to protect skin from harmful UV rays. Once the methods were created to increase the protective nature of clothing, researchers there developed a UPF rating system to determine the level of protection from the sun a given garment achieves.

Instead of lathering up with oily lotions to get protection, the public has the option of also choosing specific garments to protect themselves from the sun's destructive rays. "Sunscreen always comes to mind when wanting to shield yourself from the UV rays," says Elson Yeung, product line manager at Ash City, "but when the sunscreen wipes off or wears away after a few hours, clothing remains as a solid way to protect you throughout the day." 

The technology behind the trend is simple: Tightening the construction of the knit in the fabric minimizes the amount of UV light that is allowed to pass through. Not only is the risk of developing a sunburn reduced, but also unseen damage that occurs from continually exposure to UV rays. (After all, melanoma can occur without sunburns.)

The UPF rating on these garments is determined by a number of factors, including how tight the construction of the garment is, what dyes are used (as some dyes deflect more sunlight than others), fiber type, and stretchiness. The more elastic the fabric is, the more likely that the holes between the threads will widen, causing more sunlight to penetrate the material. Good UPF protection starts with a 15 rating; excellent protection ratings range in the 40s and 50s. Ash City, for example, offers polos and active tops with UPF ratings of 15-39 and 40+.

UPF-protected clothing is making significant headway into the logo apparel industry. River's End Trading, for example, offers Columbia Bahama shirts that are crafted with sun-protection technology called "Omni-Shade," which carries a UPF rating of 30+. Lori Anderson, marketing manager at Rivers End, advises to target the hospitality market when pitching UPF-protected clothing. "Resorts and hotels are fantastic markets for this type of apparel," she says. "In the Caribbean and Mexico, hotel employees and food service individuals are constantly working outside. These places will be looking for work uniforms that will protect their employees from the sun." In addition, Yeung suggests staff members at golf courses or companies offering giveaways at outdoor tournaments.