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What Is UPF and How Can It Help Prevent Skin Cancer?

If you participate in any type of outdoor activity, it’s important to protect your skin from the ravages of potent ultraviolet (UV) rays. Regardless of whether or not you’re susceptible to burns, you’re still at risk of developing a number of effects, from premature lines and wrinkles to skin cancer.

That’s why it’s so crucial to apply sunscreen every time you go outside – even if you’re only taking a quick stroll outside. Protection is key, and anything that you can do to safeguard your skin will make a big difference in the long term. Another proactive step that you might consider is wearing clothing enhanced with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). This element can help you stay safer while you’re splashing in the pool, relaxing on the sand, and soaking up the sunshine.

Many different garments, from swimsuits to beach cover ups, contain UPF. While you still need to wear sunscreen, UPF clothing can double your protection while you’re out and about. And because it’s so important to protect your skin at all times of year – even fall and winter – adding UPF-enhanced clothing to your wardrobe is an easy way to do just that.

A Brief Look at SPF

You’re probably familiar with Sun Protection Factor (SPF). This measurement reflects the efficacy of sunscreen and determines just how well it will safeguard your skin from potent UV rays. Guidelines recommend using a broad-spectrum product that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. “A” rays are those that can lead to premature signs of aging, including fine lines and wrinkles. Regular exposure to those rays can also increase the potential of developing skin cancer.

“B” rays, by contrast, are those that contribute to burns. But, just like the A rays, they can also aggravate aging skin and contribute to the formation of skin cancer. Most radiation damage occurs through UVA rays. Because they’re so potent, they can penetrate any type of material, from clouds to fabric to glass, without trouble at any time of the year. This is why it’s crucial to wear sunscreen even when you’re wearing sun protective swimwear and other garments with UPF.

How UPF Ratings Work

While wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen that includes the right blend of ingredients can help combat both UVA and UVB rays, it’s not always enough to protect your skin from damage that might develop with repeated exposure to those harsh rays. You can take extra protective measures by adding UPF clothing to your routine.

How are UPF and SPF related? Both protect your skin from those pitfalls of sun exposure. UPF is similar in many respects to SPF in that it features a rating system. On the lower end are UPF 15 and 20. Ratings of 25, 30, and 35 are considered a step above, but the highest ratings include 40, 45, and 50.

The latter rating of 50 implies that the fabric allows just a 50th of those potent UV rays to pass through. That’s about 2%, making it among the highest quality options available. Anything lower than 15 doesn’t provide nearly enough protection to safeguard your skin from those rays.

UPF Fabric Elements

What is it that makes UPF fabric so powerful? It’s a combination of several different factors. Among those is the actual makeup of the product. Construction plays a significant role in longevity, but it also contributes to more efficiency when it comes to blocking out UV rays. The tighter and denser the knit of your favorite women’s polo shirt, for example, the less sunlight can pass through.

Fabrics made with materials like polyester and rayon are especially effective at combatting rays. But it’s important to consider that regular wear and tear can have an impact on the garment’s efficacy over time. As the color fades and the finish breaks down through countless washes, the UPF can be less impactful. The more that the fabric stretches out, too, the less effective it will be.

The Finishing Touch

Whether you’re wearing capri pants or a pullover jacket infused with SPF, it’s important to note that this precaution alone won’t do the job. It bears repeating: Always wear sunscreen with an elevated SPF rating as your first line of defense.

Then pile on the UV-filtering clothes. You should also wear sunglasses to protect your eyes, and throw on a hat to shield your complexion from the sun. Finally, be mindful of the hours that you spend outdoors. The sun is at its peak roughly between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you can limit your sun exposure during these hours, your skin will fare best.

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