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The most effective sunscreen you can use this summer might come, not in a bottle, jar or tube, but on a hanger.
Summer clothes with a built-in sun protection factor (SPF) as high or higher than some of the strongest sunscreens are being produced by several companies around the country. Manufacturers are generally secretive about how they work, saying simply that it’s a combination of the fibers used and the way they’re woven and dyed.
But with skin cancer the fastest growing type and most common of all cancers in America, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, the need for better methods of sun protection is obvious. One in five Americans will get skin cancer, says Dr. Darrell Rigel, an associate professor of dermatology at the New York University Medical Center.
Shaun Hughes was one of those people. Diagnosed at age 26 with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer his doctor warned him to protect himself from the sun. “But I found that I would sunburn even through my clothing,” says Hughes. “I knew there had to be a better way.”
Rigel says regular light cotton clothing has an SPF of 2 to 6, far under the 15 he recommends for people who are going to be out in the sun.
After consulting with textile experts and dermatologists, Hughes founded Sun Precautions, a Seattle-based company that makes lightweight clothing with an SPF of over 30. Marketed under the brand name Solumbra-the deepest, darkest shadow created by a solar eclipse-the long-sleeved shirts, long pants and wide-brimmed hats are made of a nylon material that feels like raw silk.
The clothes are cool and are made for summer wear since they’re so lightweight-a Solumbra long-sleeved shirt weighs only 80 percent of a typical cotton polo shirt, Hughes says. The clothing comes in all sizes for both children and adults; prices range from $43.95 for a hat to around $85 for a jacket. (Call 1-800-822-7860 for a catalog.)
Another company making sun-protective clothing is Frogskin, founded by an Arizona mother who was concerned about her child. “I have a fair-skinned child who wouldn’t stand still long enough to be lathered with sunscreen,” said company founder Jan Steinberg. The lightweight T-shirts, pants and jackets for children and adults with an SPF of over 30, are priced from $17 to $50. (Catalogs are available by calling 1-800-328-4440)
Since “85 percent of skin cancers occur on the head and neck,” according to Rigel, hats are an especially effective sunscreen. Any hat will help, but there are several on the market with additional protection. The Chicago-based Solar Protective Factory makes a nylon Solarweave fabric that blocks 94 to 99 percent of ultraviolet (UV) rays. Along with a currently available baseball cap, $19.95, made entirely of Solarweave, the company will also early next month start selling a straw hat, $32, with the Solarweave fabric fused to the underside of the brim and inside the crown that will also block up to 99 percent of the burning rays.
“A traditional straw hat blocks only about 30 to 40 percent of UV rays,” says Harvey Schakowsky, the CEO and co-founder of Solar Protective Factory. (Hats can be ordered by calling 1-800-SUN-BLOC).
Schakowsky says the company plans to start using Solarweave to make clothing as well as canopies for baby cradles, and that a number of additional products are being developed.
Meanwhile, next month Reebok introduces its Greg Norman straw golf hats, which will be lined with Solar-weave fabric and will be sold nationwide at Bloomingdale’s as well as golf specialty shops for $32.
“The clothing has definitely been shown to be effective,” says Dr. Debra Jaliman, a clinical instructor of dermatology at the Mount Sinai Medical Center. “With sunscreens, a higher SPF also means a higher amount of chemicals. And there’s the potential for irritation of the skin or just sweating the sunscreen off.”
But it doesn’t really matter what kind of sun protection you’re using-SPF clothing or high SPF sunscreen-as long as you’re using it, says Dr. Joshua Fox, director ofAdvanced Dermatology P.C. and The Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery a group practice on Queens and Long Island. “Using sun protection is very important,” says Fox. “You’ll lower your risk of skin cancer, and in 20 years, you’ll still have nice skin.”