Once upon a time, "stylish" and "sun protective" typically weren't synonymous.
Nowadays they can be, thanks to companies that specialize in apparel that helps protect from the sun's damaging UVA/UVB rays and comes in colors and silhouettes more in line with today's fashion trends.
Clothing doesn't have to be labeled or marketed as "sun protective" to help shield people from it. For instance, if a shirt is long-sleeved, tightly woven and made of a thick, heavy fabric, it offers some protection. But designers behind sun protective apparel take away the guess work.
Like sunblock, the clothing is marked with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) that tells consumers how much protection they're getting. Designers figure this out through rigorous research and testing to ensure clothes are providing a defense that not only works but also lasts. Coolibar, in Minneapolis, launders its UPF apparel for infants through adults 40 times and exposes it to 100 fading units of simulated sunlight, among other tests.
"The protection does not wear out," said integrated marketing manager Jennifer Annett. "It's permanent. It's a part of the fabric," which is embedded with zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Shop the collection, much of which is in the $100 range or less, at www.coolibar.com.
Shaun Hughes, president and founder of Sun Precautions, started working in 1990 with leaders in photo medicine to develop the UPF clothing his Seattle-based company offers. His own diagnosis with malignant melanoma while in graduate school inspired him to establish the company.
The fabrics used in Sun Precautions apparel and accessories for men, women and children are patented as sun protective and undergo 500 wash cycles to ensure the effectiveness doesn't break down over time. The majority of its inventory is made in America.
"We try to keep sunlight or ultraviolet light from both transmitting through the fibers as well as through the holes in the fibers," Mr. Hughes said.
Because the majority of Sun Precautions' pieces are long-sleeved and long pants, the company has found ways to maximize the ventilation and wicking properties of the fabrics so they're comfortable and breathable in hot weather, making the line a favorite among athletes, he said. On average, children's apparel starts in the $20-$30 range, while clothes for adults begin at about $40 and can run up to the low hundreds. It's available at www.sunprecautions.com.
Like Mr. Hughes, a bout with skin cancer was one of the motivators behind the launch in 2011 of Marina Arnold's sun protective apparel line SPF Addict, based in Southern California. Her experiences as a registered nurse working in cosmetic dermatology for 18 years also demonstrated a need for more clothing options.
"I found that sun damage was one of the biggest things out there, no matter where I went, from state to state," she said. Patients told her: "If I had a cuter looking sun protective outfit, I would so wear it."
"I heard that over and over for the last 18 years."
Fabrics for her line are soft and eco-friendly. Fibers in them absorb the sun's rays before they hit the skin.
"Each and every fabric that I use is tested by a Ph.D. in textile" until it's UPF 50+, she said, adding that chemists also submit them to at least 40 wash cycles.
The made-in-America apparel for men and women is available at www.spfaddict.com and select boutiques.
"You can get something as low as $25," Ms. Arnold said. "You can literally wear it anywhere. You can take it from the beach to the street and into the night.
"I always say the best kept secret is that no one is going to know you're wearing sun protection."
Sun protective apparel can be beneficial to those with skin conditions and as a form of prevention for those without them.
"One of the biggest weaknesses of sunscreen or sunblock is that people don't apply enough of it, and they don't reapply," said Laura Ferris, an assistant professor of dermatology who practices at UPMC St. Margaret Hospital. Sun protective clothing is "a good option just to minimize the amount of sunblock that you need to be applying."
But the clothing must cover large portions of the body to be effective.
"If all you're wearing is something that's covering a half percent of your body, you're not getting much protection," she said, referencing the UPF bikinis that are available.
No matter what people wear this summer, the time of day they're out and for how long also plays a significant role in sun safety.
"The other thing that is important is that trying to minimize the direct exposure from about 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.," Dr. Ferris said. "Also, if you are going to be outside enjoying the pool this summer, sitting under an umbrella or in the shade makes a big difference."
Sara Bauknecht: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SaraB_PG. First Published June 11, 2013 4:00 AM