By John Barrow, President and Founder of Coolibar
This post is taken from the latest edition of Perfect Skin Protection (download your free PSP magazine for iPad here).
(Photo: John Barrow, Credit: Star Tribune)
Clothing has protected people from the sun (and other elements) for tens of thousands of years. In addition to keeping skin protected, clothing can also help maintain a modest appearance, which is still important in many cultures.
Effective protection from the sun comes through a combination of clothing that covers up the skin and fabrics that block UV penetration. What’s new today is that it is possible to create sophisticated fabrics that are bright and very light-weight, yet still highly effective in blocking UV. This is made possible by adding UV blockers, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, into the fibers of specially engineered fabrics.
The best of this combination of sophisticated fabrics made into clothing that covers up is the creation of fashionable designs that can appeal to different cultures and countries.
To what extent have these new fabrics been adopted around the globe? The original source of much of the innovation in sun protective clothing was Australia. This country has a relatively fair-skinned population, with high levels of sun exposure due to its location and the active, outdoor lifestyle of its people. In the second half of the 20th century, this combination of factors led to extremely high levels of skin cancer – with malignant melanoma overtaking lung cancer in the 1990s.
Part of the response to this problem in Australia was the re-introduction of the old idea of using clothing as protection against the sun. In particular, when at the beach or in the pool, Australians, particularly children, started to cover up using swim shirts, known as rash guards or rashies.
A federal government agency, now officially the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), developed guidelines for testing and labeling these garments. According to its website, the ARPANSA has issued over 50 million UPF rating tags for sun protective products.
In US, skin cancer rates have been increasing over the past 50 years with over a million new cases of skin cancer diagnosed annually. The Canadian Dermatology Society estimates 75,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with non-malignant skin cancer annually.
Like Australia, the well-publicized rise in skin cancer rates have prompted people in the United States and Canada to again use clothing as a primary defense against too much sun exposure. Children can often be seen wearing swim shirts while wide-brimmed women’s hats are once again in style. And for 15 years there have been guidelines for testing and labeling sun protective clothing from the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists and from the American Society for Testing and Materials based on the standards originally developed in Australia.
These same sun protective clothing standards have also been adopted in Europe by the European Committee for Standardization and the related organizations within member countries. However, in many parts of Europe, particularly within the warmer, southern countries, people still believe that tanning is a sign of being healthy and attractive. On the other hand, there is a growing awareness of the dangers of overexposure to the sun and the role of sun protective clothing, particular in northern regions such as the United Kingdom, Germany, and Scandinavia.
In Asia, many people have continued the practices of the past centuries and use clothing for modesty and protection against the sun. Sun umbrellas or parasols are very popular in countries such as China and Japan. And a number of countries, such as Indonesia, have started to adopt Australian-style swimwear. So, many people in Asia continue to be cautious about exposure to the sun in the same way they have for many generations.
Cultural beliefs about health and the sun have been an important factor in shaping the fashions we see and wear. Today, although attitudes differ around the world, in many countries we are seeing a generally increasing recognition of the importance of protection against the sun’s damaging UV rays.
From the latest edition of Perfect Skin Protection (download your free PSP magazine for iPad here).