Get Your Sun Gear On

Dr. Lindsey Mcilvena, MD

In her day job, treating patients living with chronic disease, nutrition and lifestyle are not after-thoughts, they’re central to helping her patients get well. She’s also our go-to expert on plant-based diets.

Yes, using the right sunscreen is a good way to be sun smart this summer. (You can check out our sunscreen review article for our favorite brands.) But sunscreen is only one part of sun protection. Don’t forget other sun-smart gear as well.

Slip on your shades.

Don’t forget your sunglasses when going outside, no matter if you’re going to work or you’re packing your bag for the beach, sailing or any outdoor adventure. UVA and UVB radiation from the sun can damage important structures of the eye including the retina and the lens. What we’ve learned more recently is that the transmittance of these harmful rays is higher in children, putting them at even more risk of sun-related eye damage.  So everyone, young, older and in between, needs to wear shades when they’re outdoors.

What should you look for in a pair of shades? The most important thing is that they state that they block 100% of UV radiation. This means they block 100% of both harmful UVA and UVB rays.

Bigger lenses and wrap-around shades are best. They protect the area around your eye more completely.  Luckily this look is still en vogue! And if you want to go crazy with red, green, or blue lenses, have at it; the lens color doesn’t matter as long as they block 100% of the UV rays. And don’t forget, as we mentioned in our Get Sun Smart article, UV rays can penetrate through clouds and haze!

Wear a hat.

Congrats to you for upping your protection game and wearing a hat with at least a 3-inch brim! Now, just make sure it will actually do its job. You want to look for a fabric that has a tight weave because it blocks as much of the sun’s rays as possible. So how do you know if the weave is tight? Hold the hat up to the light, if you can see the sun shining through, try again, the weave isn’t tight enough. What you see shining through will be coming into direct contact with your precious skin cells, aging them, decreasing their elasticity, and putting you at risk for skin cancer.

Choose your sun-protecting clothing.

Obviously, long-sleeved shirts are more protective than a tank top. But did you know not all shirts provide the same protection?  Dark colored fabric (like blue denim) and tightly woven fabric offer more protection than a white t-shirt.  But if it’s too hot to wear dark, thick-material clothes, we recommend wearing a swim shirt, rash guard or a high-tech sun shirt. Swim shirts and rash guards are close-fitting, long sleeve shirts made from light-weight material and can get wet and still protect you from the sun (not to mention surfboards and boogie boards).

High-tech sun clothing is treated with sunblock and carries a UPF rating.  UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and a UPF of 50 blocks out 98% of the UVA and UVB rays from the sun. This is a great option for longer days in the sun, whether at the beach, park, pool or while hiking or working out.

This type of clothing is lightweight, cooler, less restrictive and more comfortable.  And it’s certainly less sticky and easier to use than sunscreen!  And now there are so many great styles and colors available either in sporting goods stores or online.

It’s not just all about sunscreen to protect your body from damaging rays.  You can also protect yourself by wearing sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and sun-protective clothing.

For more important information about skin cancer, and sunscreen truths and recommendations read these articles.


American Academy of Dermatology, Nov 2009, Dermatologist Can Help Separate Fact From Fiction for Sun Exposure, Sunscreen, and Vitamin D.

Bhar-Cohen, et al, 2014, Ultraviolet Damage to the Eye Revisited, Clinical Ophthalmology.

Gambichler, et al, Sept 2001, Protection Against Ultraviolet Radiation by Summer Clothing, BMC Dermatology.

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