Narrator: In 2017, researchers tested 20 best-selling US sunscreens. The good news is that 19 of them met FDA standards. The bad news? Nine of them didn’t meet European standards. Turns out, different countries have different rules for what makes a safe sunscreen and US sunscreens may not be protecting Americans as well as it could. When we lay in the sun, our skin absorbs two types of UV light. UVA and UVB rays. UVB light is higher energy and can cause sunburns while UVA penetrates deeper under the skin and can damage skin cells along the bottom layer of your epidermis.
Desai: We know that UVB rays are the rays that cause sunburns. But UVA rays are the rays that can actually cause skin cancer so you actually wanna cover the spectrum on both of those. I think a lot of people get into a misconception that I didn’t get sunburned so I’m not at prone to getting skin cancer which really isn’t true.
Narrator: The biggest concern with US sunscreen is how much protection you’re getting from cancer-causing UVA rays. For decades, FDA regulations required that sunscreens protect against UVB, but not necessarily against UVA. Meanwhile, rates for melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer, kept climbing in the US. Then, in 2012, the FDA updated its regulations on labeling and testing so that manufacturers must now let customers know if its sunscreen protects against both UVB and UVA. That’s what the broad spectrum label on your sunscreen means, for example. And while this is a good first step, there’s still no regulation on how much protection you’re getting from UVA. So, there’s no way to tell.
Desai: Here in the United States, I think we need to be cognizant of the fact that when a sunscreen says it’s broad spectrum, UVA- and UVB-protecting, that does mean you’re going to get protection against those rays. However, what it does not mean is that it’s going to block out all of the rays.
Narrator: And that’s where US sunscreens fall short.
Desai: And I will say that I do think we are behind other countries globally, particularly some of our European counterparts, in getting new sunscreen ingredients approved. Overall, there has not been much change in US sunscreen composition and what our sunscreens are made up of in the past several years.
Narrator: The FDA has approved 16 active ingredients that protect against UV radiation. But only some protect against both UVB and UVA rays. For comparison, Europe requires that all of its more than 20 active ingredients protect against both.
Desai: Right now, the American Academy of Dermatology and other organizations are really advocating with the FDA that they need to really speed up the approval process for new sunscreen ingredients. Because it’s with these ingredients that we can probably get even better coverage and better protection and maybe even get something that’s easier to apply, that’s easier on the skin, that doesn’t have any harmful side effects for patients.
Narrator: You can purchase sunscreens from other countries online. But if you plan on sticking with American sunscreens, look for the broad spectrum label and don’t buy anything below SPF 30.
Desai: The higher the SPF, definitely the better. But we definitely don’t want anyone going below a 30. And think about if you’re someone who has a history of a melanoma, if you use an SPF 30, you’re blocking out let’s say 98% of the harmful rays. However, what about the remaining 2%? That 2% may be something that could be potential of putting you at a risk down the road.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in November 2018.
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UPF clothing protects your covered skin from UV radiation while outside fishing, hiking, boating, and traveling.
Brands make everything from long sleeves to skirts to hats with UPF protection now.
L.L.Bean is our top pick for brands that sell sun protection clothing for its wide selection of well-made, attractive UPF clothing.
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Most of us know that when we’re headed out for a beach day, backyard BBQs, home pool parties, or outdoor adventures, we need to slather on sunscreen to prevent a sunburn and minimize our risk for skin cancer. But skin protection goes beyond just lotion you rub on your exposed parts. The skin under your clothing while you’re out hiking or building sandcastles with your kids can still be exposed to harmful UV radiation.
That’s why sun-protective clothing and accessories should be a staple of your summer wardrobe. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that sun-protective long sleeves, shorts and pants, hats, neck gaiters, even gloves, are the most effective form of sun protection. These specially designed items feature tighter weaves than normal clothing which reduces the number of UVB and UVA rays that can penetrate through to your skin. Some brands, like Columbia Sportswear, also use proprietary tech for added features, like reflecting any lingering rays away from your skin.
How protective an item is is defined by its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). While Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, is measured by how long it will take for UV-exposed skin to redden, UPF indicates how much UVB and UVA can reach your skin through the fabric at hand, the Skin Cancer Foundation explains. The average cotton tee has a UPF of 5, which means the garment allows 95% of incoming UV rays to penetrate it, while an item with UPF 50+ only allows 2% of the sun’s rays to pass.
If you are an avid adventurer, chances are you already have some lightweight long sleeves or hiking pants with UPF features. But if you usually cover-up at the beach with a cotton long sleeve from the local gift shop, or you’re hiking in a generic workout top, you might need to up your UPF protection. Luckily, as outdoor adventures become more popular and more people are taking their fitness under the sun, a wide range of brands are designing clothing and accessories with built-in sun protection. To help you find the most stylish sun-smart offerings on the market, we’ve rounded up five fashionable brands that sell clothing with a minimum of UPF 50.
L.L.Bean is a one-stop-shop for summer basics for both men and women, including button-up tops, trousers, shorts, tees, and even dresses that feature built-in UPF 50 at a moderate price point.
Pros: Great basics with sun protection of UPF 50, mostly reasonably priced, lots of options and variety in products, offerings for both men and women, seal of recommendation from Skin Cancer Foundation
Cons: Fancier items can get pricey
Size range: XXS-3X for women’s; S-XXL in regular and tall for men
There’s a reason why L.L.Bean is a go-to source for stylish yet durable outerwear and accessories. The American brand has been making high-quality functional goods for more than 100 years. While you probably own a pair of L.L. Bean’s winter boots or cozy thermals, the company’s summery UPF clothing is just as good.
The iconic company has more than 150 items with built-in sun protection for all genders, including separates, dresses, outerwear, and accessories. Trousers and tops mostly retail for $60 or less, while higher-end pieces like hiking jackets and polarized sunglasses range from $100 to $250.
If you like to be active while outdoors, Athleta’s on-trend activewear with UPF 50+ is just what you need.
Pros: Stylish activewear with UPF 50+, many versatile pieces that can be worn multiple ways, high-quality
Size range: XXS-3X for women in petite, regular, and tall
If you love to exercise in the sunshine, check out the UPF workout wear at Athleta. The activewear brand is known for its fashionable yet functional pieces and the company also has a large variety of sun-conscious items.
Insider Reviews writer Kylie Joyner is a huge fan of the brand’s Sunlover UPF Tank saying, “it provides excellent protection from the sun’s rays.” She added that it is great for hot runs because it “wicks sweat away easily, and dries quickly.”
Kylie also mentioned that the Athleta UPF top is on the more expensive end but “its performance, quality, and the features it offers make the price justifiable.”
Best bright-colors brand
If your warm-weather wardrobe is full o bright prints, Lilly Pulitzer‘s UPF clothing will be right up your alley.
Pros: Fashionable feminine items with UPF 50+, variety of items and prints, great for vacations
Cons: Very bright colors and prints might not be for everyone
Size range: XXS-XL
Resortwear brand Lilly Pulitzer is known for making colorfully printed clothing that screams summer. Knowing that a lot of the brand’s customers pack its cheerful designs for tropical holidays, Lilly Pulitzer expanded its collection to include pieces made with sun protective fabrics.
The vacation-ready UPF 50+ line includes everything from preppy pullovers and sporty leggings to flirty frocks and ruffled skirts, all in the same vivid and happy prints as the regular collection.
The UPF 50+ Sophie Dress was the brand’s first foray into sun-protected clothing and remains one of the most popular pieces to date with a 4.7-star rating on Lilly Pulitzer’s website. The feminine frock comes in six different prints and can be customized with your initials.
It’s just one of the pieces from the stylish line that can offer protection when worn as a cover-up to the beach but is sleek enough to take you from the sand to dinner in a snap.
Best swimsuit brand
If you spend your summers outside laying by the pool or hanging out on the beach, Lands’ End‘s stylish UPF 50 swim and cover-up options will ensure your skin stays protected.
Pros: High-quality swimwear and cover-ups with UPF 50, The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, large variety of options
Cons: Pieces with technical functions can get expensive
Size range: XS-3X in regular, petite, and long
While Lands’ End has a huge offering of clothing with UPF 50, its swim and cover-up collection is the largest we’ve ever seen. The swim line includes one-pieces, bikinis, swim skirts, rashguards, and even dresskini styles.
While most of the line is at a moderate price point, some of the pieces with technical features like tummy control and Slendertex fabric can be pricier.
Best technical plus-size brand
Columbia Sportwear uses its proprietary technology to make high-quality UPF clothing for fishing, hiking, trail running, and traveling and is one of the few brands to offer sizes up to 5X and 3X for men and women, respectively.
Pros: Range of sizes; durable, technical gear; sport-specific which includes fishing gear at a larger size; widely available, affordable
Cons: Women’s sizes max out at 3X
It’s no surprise that one of the leading technical outdoor apparel brands would make great sun-protectant clothing. Columbia Sportswear’s UPF items feature Omni-Shade™ Sun Deflector tech, which utilizes reflective dots to deflect sunlight away from your body, while the Omni-Shade™ fabric itself is tightly constructed with UV absorbers to keep any rays that do make it through off your skin. Its sun-protectant clothing is also sweat-wicking to keep you cool and dry on hot days.
The brand offers a huge range of UPF clothing — including tops, bottoms, jackets, hats, gaiters, gloves, even cute jumpsuits and dresses — for most every outdoor activity that has you baking under the sun (namely fishing, trail running, hiking, and traveling). What’s more, Columbia offers these protective items to fit a range of sizes, up to a 5X for men and a 3X for women. While quite a few brands on this list make UPF clothing up to a 3X for women as week, Columbia’s gear overall is some of the most popular with plus-size adventurers for durable, technical, and functional needs.
Brands for UPF hats, gloves, and other accessories
Coolibar has an extensive collection of UPF 50+ clothing and accessories — everything from scarfs and hats, to beach shawls and even gardening gloves— that look good and offer solid protection.
Seirus Innovationis a partially black-owned business and one of the leading brands for sun-protectant accessories. It makes UPF gloves, neck gaiters, and a wide variety of sun hats that have the helpful ability to physically connect to the neck gaiters for serious skin protection.