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Sun Savvy Fabric

New fabrics can protect you from the sun.

New fabrics can protect you from the sun.

Photo: Kat Riehle

A different way to protect yourself from extreme sun.
The forecast in Newtown, CT (home to Sew Stylish) is currently 90 degrees. With the extreme heat of July and fears of skin cancer, ultraviolet ray blocking fabric is truly in style. My mother is terrified of the effects of too much sun. Both skin cancer and wrinkles from the sun are a constant topic in my household, and as a child, I could not leave the house without sunscreen, a hat or visor, sunglasses, a jacket-the works! Although this is a little extreme, the effects of the sun are always a summer worry.

My advice-protect yourself so cancer and wrinkled skin are not a problem later. But is sunscreen enough? Glamour also advises to use an ounce, or the equivalent of a shot glass of lotion to prepare for a day in the sun. But reapplying sun screen is annoying, slimy and not the most effective method. Lotion washes away. The perfect solution for seamsters-UV protective fabric!

Two types of fabrics will protect you from the extreme summer heat, and both are great options to consider when sewing summer clothes:

Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays have harmful effects on your skin. UVB rays penetrate the epidermis, (the top layer of skin), but they do not have the strength to travel deeper into your body. UVA rays are even more harmful, and they travel through the epidermis and then into the dermis (the second layer of skin). Ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) in fabric protects against both, whereas sun protective factor (SPF) protects only against UVB rays.

The Solar Protective Factory says if your shadow is longer than you, the sun is low enough that you won't be affected as much by the its damaging UVB rays. A sun-protective fabric will last two years at an UPF 15; this provides good protection against both types of harmful sun rays.

Sun protective factor (SPF) is found in sunscreens. (My mom always required me to wear SPF 50.) The number on the bottle of lotion tells you how long you can remain in he sun before your skin will begin to burn. (SPF 50 = 50 minutes.) A UPF in fabric actually blocks the sun's rays from penetrating through fabric. Consider SPF a protective layer and UPF a shield.

Is it believable that different fabrics can protect our skin? The Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Products Safety Commission work to regulate UV fabrics, but companies are following voluntary guidelines when testing their fabrics. Check with the manufacturer to learn how they test their fabrics and clothing. Also, make sure that they are following the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) Test Method 183.

Defense Factors
The construction of a fabric, the color, fiber content, and weave all influence how well protected you are in the sun. Polyester and silk are the best protective fabrics because they reflect radiation. Wool also does a good job of reflecting the sun's rays, but I do not plan on wearing a wool shirt to the beach. Pigments (lignins) in unbleached cotton actually absorb the UV rays so try to avoid using cotton if you are looking to protect yourself from the sun.

If clothing becomes wet or stretched it loses its ability to protect. A white T-shirt may have an SPF of 5 to 7, but the second it gets wet, the number drastically decreases to SPF 3. A darker color will better shield your body. At first, this information sounds incorrect because light colors are supposed to reflect the sun's rays, but UV rays work differently than light rays, and instead, the light colors allow the sun to penetrate through the skin. Dark colors are better at blocking these rays.

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