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By now, if you’re not wearing SPF year-round, you’re not paying enough attention to what can happen if you don’t. But sunscreen is just one piece of the skin-protection puzzle. Another you may not have considered is sun protective clothing.
Sun protective clothing is a thing, and it’s actually not a gimmick. The women’s (and kid’s) clothing brand Mott 50 specializes in the category — every item they make contains UPF 50. (UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, and measures the UV radiation that can penetrate clothing.)
“There’s no clothing brand on the market that is producing fashionable sun protective clothing,” says the brand’s founder, Anne Reilly. “We want our customers to be comfortable, look good, and [be able to] prevent premature aging and wrinkles on a daily basis.”
And dermatologists do agree. Elizabeth K. Hale, MD, a clinical associate professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, explained to me that the concept of sun protective clothing is legit. “We do know that sun protection is the best way to minimize your risk of skin cancer and slow down premature skin aging. I’ve become such a convert, and personally wear these SPF shirts all summer,” says Hale.
But most people don’t, probably because they don’t even know that it’s a thing, or that the clothes they’re wearing aren’t doing as much as they think they are in terms of sun protection. “People don't realize that the average shirt has a UPF of only 5,” says Reilly. “This means that the UVA rays that cause wrinkles, sun spots, and skin cancer go through regular clothing.”
Currently, Mott 50’s collection includes swimsuits and surf gear, like rash guards, leggings, long-sleeved and short-sleeved tees, and bathing suit coverups. The prices range from $29 for a hat and around $60 for a tank top to a little over $100 for more involved pieces.
You’ll see most of the tops have a higher neckline. Hale explains to me over the phone that most of the women she sees with signs of premature aging, skin cancer, or sun damage have it on their shoulders and chests — parts of the body that “take a lot of sun.” And even though some of the Mott 50 tops have long sleeves and there are full-length pants, Hale says that you’re not going to be as hot as you might assume, because keeping covered prevents the sun from beating down on your skin.
While it’s perfect for people with skin cancer or people who are at a high risk of developing it, sun protective clothing is also really good for lazy people. Putting on a shirt is a lot easier than reapplying sunscreen throughout the day — even if you’re diligent about lotioning up, odds are you’re not re-upping nearly as much as you should be.
“We’re trying to change the whole behavior. No one should be seeking a tan — a tan is a sign of UV damage,” says Hale. “Sun protective clothing is another part of this picture. The clothing has definitely shown to be effective. Anything we can do to make it easier for our patients, I’m an advocate of.”