The weather is warming up; beach days, backpacking hikes and bike rides are within easy reach. It’s also the time of year when I start wearing sunscreen. In my early twenties I developed melanoma, a very aggressive cancer that tends to occur in people who entertain outdoors (especially if they spend much of the year indoors) . Every burning sunburn you get increases your risk of developing melanoma by 50%.
Since then, I swore to myself to take better care of my skin. Every day, even on cloudy days, I practically bathe in sunscreen before going out. So far, so good. Then I forget to put it back. Unfortunately, sunscreen is only effective against the sun’s rays for two hours. This is why, on several occasions, I still ended up with a burning, lobster-red sunburn that covered my entire body – exactly what I was told to avoid.
Couldn’t I just wear more diapers? The short answer: yes. Generally speaking, the fabric will block UV light that causes sunburn, with darker, tighter fabric being the most effective. Denim has a UPF value of around 1700, which means it effectively blocks 100% of the sun’s rays. But who wants to do a trail in jeans? A study by researchers at Boise State University found that many fabrics used to make summer clothing had UPF values well below the minimum 30 that experts recommend. A white polyester t-shirt in the study had a UPF value of about 17. The cotton fabric had a UPF value of about 12, and linen, my favorite summer fabric, offers next to no protection. solar.
Many outdoor clothing brands design clothing specifically to filter out UV light while still being breathable. A recent study published in the journal Cancer found that this type of clothing may actually be more effective than sunscreen at blocking the sun’s rays. This summer I started field testing UPF gear to see if it lived up to the hype. My main objectives: to avoid burns and overheating. Oh, and I wanted to look cool doing it.
Outdoor Research ActiveIce Spectrum Sun Hoodie
This hoodie has a UPF value of 50+, which means it blocks out over 98% of the sun’s rays. I wore it on a beautiful spring day, slightly humid with wispy clouds, when I decided to go out and play football, one of my favorite pastimes. Unfortunately for my cakey skin, the game doesn’t offer much shade either.
The shirt was light, breathable and much softer than the polypropylene running shirts I usually wear. The thumbholes meant the sleeves didn’t ride up my arms. However, half an hour into the game I felt swampy and warm, even though it was only 65°F. Conclusion: I will definitely wear this shirt on a nice winter day or as a blanket at the beach , but I won’t exercise in the heat of summer. $79, comes in women’s and men’s sizes, Outdoor Research
Samsara Getaway Shirt
This UPF 50+ button-down shirt is designed for cycling (the company also makes more traditional cycling jerseys). The “tropical chaos” print brings some serious “vacation dad” vibes. It’s exactly what I was looking for.
Recently, after two solid weeks of freezing rain and hail, temperatures in Portland hit 75°F. Alongside everyone else in town, I headed straight for the park on my bike.
The getaway was loose and airy, and I stayed cool and dry during my sweaty bike rides and playing a few football games in the sun. I liked that the sleeves went all the way down to the elbows which meant I had to reapply sunscreen only to my forearms – easy enough. The feel of the fabric was slightly shiny, stretchy and very synthetic in texture – more cycling jersey than typical button down shirt. But according to friends, you couldn’t tell just by looking at it. Bonus: From the many compliments I received, I did look cool. $139 CAD, only available in women’s sizes, Samsara
Patagonia Self-Guided Hiking Shirt
First of all, I felt downright dapper wearing this button down shirt. It is quite suitable for a hike or a day in the city. The UPF 50+ shirt is light and airy, in part because, unlike most other UPF garments, protection comes not from the tightness or heavy weave of the fabric, but from a carbon dioxide treatment. titanium, the same chemical found in reef-safe sunscreen. . The treatment is built into the fabric, so it won’t wash out (according to Patagonia, that is).
I ordered this in white, and the light shade definitely helped keep me cool – a bonus, as white is associated with less sun protection in regular clothing. It was also easy to wash off. I wore it on a muddy hike through the rainforest, and it always came out of the wash crisp white. $79, comes in men’s and women’s sizes, Patagonia
Bad news: melanoma is not just skin cancer. You can also develop melanoma in your eyes. As someone who has been diagnosed with melanoma in the past, I see an optometrist in addition to a dermatologist. Between appointments, I make sure to wear sunglasses. During exercise, especially running, sunglasses sliding down my nose are a real nuisance. That wasn’t a problem with these – so far I’ve worn them on hikes, trail runs, and bike rides with no slippage.
One important thing to keep in mind when wearing sunglasses is whether they are indeed UPF. Wearing sunglasses that don’t block UV rays can be more dangerous for your eyes than wearing no glasses at all – your pupils dilate to adapt to low light conditions, letting in even more UV rays . These tints block 100% of UVA and UVB rays. $195, Maho shades
Moab Outdoor Research Sun Hat
A good hat is another essential element of sun protection, especially since it is impossible to do a skin check-up on your own scalp. In the past, I’ve always opted for a good old baseball cap, but this one doesn’t cover the back of my neck. The Moab Sun Hat has a three inch brim that wraps all the way around. Tried it on a recent backpacking trip to Northern California on a cloudless weekend. The hat fit snugly on the sides of my head which meant it didn’t slide around all day. In addition to the nape, I felt like my face was shaded more than with just a baseball cap. I always wore sunscreen to be extra careful, but didn’t feel the need to reapply it as often. The UPF 50+ canvas material is sturdy yet breathable and after several dusty days it came out of the wash just fine. My girlfriend says the hat makes me look like a forest nerd, but I take that as a compliment. $49, outdoor research