The most effective method of avoiding undue sun exposure is to stay indoors, but most of us love the sun too much. Does chemical sunscreen or sunblock provide a solution? Not likely, says Harvey Schakowsky, owner of Solar Protective Factory, a Madison, Wisconsin-based manufacturer of Solarweave sun-protective fabrics and garments. For one thing, not all of these chemical products are designed to block both UVA and UVB radiation. Further, says this 18-year industry veteran, many of these lotions and creams are "insufficiently tested and very seldom perform up to the level of the claims that are made for them."
And there are plenty of consumers who shun sun protection altogether--leading to conditions from cataracts to rosacea to premature aging. Melinda Damico, co-owner of the New Jersey company PAZ, which makes sun hats, says some 70 percent of the American public does not use any form of sun protection.
Sun-protective clothing--from wide-brimmed hats to long-sleeved bathing suits and hoodies--takes UV blocking to new heights. The clothes provide a barrier against rays (and resulting skin conditions). There's no forgetting to reapply sunscreen, and there's significantly less waste and cost than buying bottle after bottle of lotion. Also, many of those lotions contain petrochemicals that organic-minded consumers would rather avoid.
Marta Phillips, owner of SunGrubbies.com, acknowledges that sun-protective clothes may be derived from petroleum and contain chemicals, but they won't be absorbed by the skin. Polyester, nylon and Lycra are three popular materials used for these specialized garments. Polyester fibers not only absorb UV, they can be shaped to help wick moisture, thus keeping skin cooler. She says that dark-colored, heavy denim may be the best choice. She does not sell denim, but carries a wide selection of pants, jackets and hats, as well as unusual items such as cover-ups, sun gloves, sun sleeves (for truckers and other professional drivers whose left arms are often exposed to UV rays), and nose scarves, which, Phillips says, are often more comfortable than prostheses for customers who have lost their noses to cancer.
As important as the fiber may be, the effectiveness of any sun-protective garment depends at least as much on the tightness of the weave or knit. When designed properly and tested adequately, these garments become medical devices, says Shaun Hughes, founder and president of...