Skin Cancer. Most of us will get some at some stage in our lives.
Let that sink in.
I don’t want to bring doom and gloom to your day but this is a fact and the more people that are aware of it the better. Why? Because prevention is better than cure, and in the case of cancer of the skin, there is no real cure. That doesn’t mean that everyone with skin cancer will perish. It’s actually one of the easiest cancers to treat. The cancerous cells are cut of the skin to prevent them spreading further. But the best way to deal with skin cancers is to protect yourself from skin damage in the first place.
You stand a good chance of developing some form of cancer of the skin if you spend a lot of time outdoors. What can you do about it?
Well, the face, neck, and ears are the most common areas where skin cancer develops. They are the parts of the body, along with the arms, that receive most sun exposure. If you come from or live in a country like New Zealand where the ozone layer is severely depleted, you should take even more care when out in the sun. Use a sun hat or some form of headwear that completely covers the most vunerable and exposed areas of the body.
What is SPF?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, in case you didn’t know already. Most people will be aware of the little 15 SPF or 50 SPF figure on the side of sunscreen tubes. But clothing can also have an SPF rating. In fact, everything has an SPF. It’s just a rating of how well a material blocks the harmful rays of the sun.
The main point to keep in mind is that SPF 50 does not offer double the protection level of SPF 25, for example. The level of sun protection with SPF numbers is not based on a linear scale. SPF 15 offers a similar level of protection as SPF 30. There’s a 4-5% difference in effectiveness.
Ideally, you should use a sunscreen/suncream and a sun hat for maximum protection. Rays will pass through both the hat and the sunscreen as the only way to completely block the sun is to hide in a cave.
We recommend using an SPF 15 and a quality sun hat such as a legionnaire’s hat or a wide-brimmed bucket hat for full head and neck protection. Long-sleeved shirts with a certified SPF are also recommended.
What we’re trying to protect ourselves from is the sun’s UVA and UVB rays, which are harmful to human (and animal) skin. The earth’s atmospheric layers (of which the ozone layer is one) does a pretty good job of protecting life on our planet from a bombardment of cosmic rays. Without the protection our atmosphere offers nothing would grow on earth. It’s that important.
UVA rays account for most of the UV radiation hitting our planet’s surface. Less intense than UVB rays, these rays are what cause your skin to age. UVA also contributes to the formation of skin cancers in the skin.
UVB rays cause sunburn and reddening of the skin. The damage mostly happens on the thin surface layer of the skin and is a major factor in skin cancer.
Sun Hats and Sun Protection
Choose wide-brimmed hats over baseball caps which leave the neck and ears exposed.
Choose legionnaire’s hats or similarly styled headwear for long periods in the sun. Especially early in the day or late at night when the sun is low in the sky. At these times of the day, a cap or brim becomes less important and sunscreens and neck and face protection is the only protection from harmful rays.
Natural fibers absorb UV radiation to a point, but nothing will completely block the sun.
Note also, that darker colors absorb more rays than lighter colors. For more effective protection use darker colors. This might go against convention. We all know what it’s like to wear black clothing on a hot day. But the fact is that this type of clothing is protecting your skin better than lighter clothing and headwear.
One of the things that most determines the effectiveness of a fabric in protecting us from the sun is the space between fibers. Synthetic materials are often better than natural fibers because the space between fibers is reduced. One way to make hats with natural fibers more resistant to UV rays is to wash them several times before use. We all know about clothing shrinkage after washing, especially for new garments. Shrinkage occurs because of the reduction in space between fibers. For sun protection this is a good thing. Less space equals less room for the sun’s rays to penetrate the skin.
Sun Screen Fabrics and Outdoor Hats for Sun Protection
A white cotton t-shirt, for example, has an SPF of about 5. That means you get 5 times longer in the sun before your skin burns. Remember that UV rays can penetrate clouds and windows so it won’t have much trouble passing through a lightly woven, breathable, white t-shirt.
If you’ve got pale skin and burn in 10 minutes in the midday sun, you’ll get roughly 50 minutes with that t-shirt before the skin reddens and damage sets in.
Tightly-woven materials offer more protection and darker fabrics offer better protection than lighter fabrics.
Some fabrics use dyes which also help block UV rays.
Avoid knitted fabrics and worn or old materials. Throw out that old pair of jeans or that battered old hat you’ve been using for fishing.
100% polyester, unbleached cotton, wool, and any tightly woven fabric offer the best protection from the sun.