Article Thumbnail

Can You Get Sunburned Through Your Clothes?

That depends what kinds of clothes you have on

There you are, ready as ever to venture outdoors for your brief, but daily jaunt around the block — a few routine minutes of nature to remind yourself of the outside world, a pleasant place where humans were once allowed to travel freely, before the coronavirus struck and shelter-in-place orders were enacted.

The sun has become but a distant concern as you grow accustomed to life within the walls of your shaded home. Heck, you might even be inclined to soak up some rays on your stroll, while you have the chance. You have pants and a shirt on, after all, so that blistering star in the sky can hardly even reach you, right? 


Lightweight, light-colored fabric offers little sun protection, especially if loosely woven,” explains dermatologist Paul Massey. “And if clothing gets wet, it can lose up to half of its UV protection.” In other words, those pants and that shirt suck at protecting you from the sun. The sun is a freaking beast, man, capable of blasting harmful rays straight through your clothes.

Now, none of this necessarily means you need to smother your body with sunscreen, no matter how bundled up you are (although, sunscreen never hurts). Instead, you can just sport UV-absorbent clothes, or at least choose to wear clothes that do a good job of blocking out the sun whenever you head outside.

As Massey suggests, UV-absorbent clothes work on several principles: They come in dark or bright colors that absorb UV rays, rather than allowing them to penetrate. They tend to be densely woven, which provides more coverage than sheer, loosely woven cloth. And they may be composed of high-tech fabrics, treated with chemical UV absorbers that prevent penetration.

Fortunately, you can achieve much of that without draining your bank account on expensive, often drab UV-absorbent clothes from some dude who hiked the John Muir Trail 167 times. As the Skin Cancer Foundation reveals in a blog post, “A white T-shirt provides only moderate sun protection, with a UPF [ultraviolet protection factor] of about 7. When that T-shirt gets wet, it provides a UPF of only 3! A dark, long-sleeved denim shirt can provide a UPF of about 1,700; in essence, complete sun protection.” Remember, dark colors absorb rays, and thick, compact fabrics like denim and wool prevent them from ever reaching your skin.

All of which makes me feel even better about wearing black all year round.