When it comes to sun protection, for many people sunscreen is the first thing that comes to mind. While sunscreen can be very effective when used properly, it does have some limitations and there can sometimes be better options.
One of the big issues with sunscreen is that people often don’t realise how much they need to apply to give them good protection. You should actually use about one teaspoon of sunscreen per limb, front of body, back of body, and face (including neck and ears). For the whole body, this equates to 7 teaspoons or about 35ml. Even if you are applying enough, due to the nature of sunscreen it can be hard to see if you’ve missed a spot.
Sunscreen also needs to be reapplied at least every two hours because it can rub or sweat off. So if you don’t keep up the application, you could easily find yourself thinking you are protected when you’re not.
That’s why clothing can provide good sun protection compared to sunscreen alone. If the clothing has a high ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating, such as 50+, you’ll find that it gives excellent sun protection. Keep in mind though that not all protective fabrics will have a UPF label. A good rule of thumb to estimate how much protection you’re getting is to hold the fabric up to the sunlight. A protective fabric should block most of the sunlight (and therefore UV radiation). And unlike sunscreen, with clothing you can clearly see which parts of your skin are covered and which aren’t. That’s why it’s recommended that where possible you cover your skin with a good UPF fabric, and only use sunscreen in those areas that you can’t easily cover like your face and back of the hands.
The other benefit to this approach is a financial one. One shirt can be used over and over again, whereas sunscreen runs and needs to be replaced, which over time can be an expensive proposition if you are using it to protect your whole body. And while some people might think of clothing as too hot during summer, this doesn’t have to be the case. There are actually some great light-weight breathable cotton shirts out there with high UPF ratings, with the added benefit of protecting your skin from other hazards in the workplace like chemicals or sparks.