San Diego Moms: Why You Should Invest in UPF Clothing this Summer

Image by Tania Dimas from Pixabay

As parents think about what’s needed for the summer to keep their children busy and safe, it’s also important to remember what they are wearing under the California sun. Eugene R. Semenov, a doctor specializing in skin cancer and specifically, melanoma, is urging parents to invest in UPF clothing, along with sunscreen.

Dr. Semenov, of the Melanoma Research Alliance, noted that between 55 to 72% of children are sunburned annually, according to a 2016 National Library of Medicine study. 

So, why is UPF clothing important and sunblock might not be enough? Dr. Semenov answers our questions in the below interview.

Why isn’t sunblock enough to protect children from the sun?

Sunscreen is a very important part of the equation when it comes to keeping children protected from harmful UV rays. However, it isn’t the only tool you have available. Sunscreens work, but only if you correctly apply and reapply them as directed – which can be particularly challenging with active children. Sunscreens can be physically rubbed off, washed off, sweated off, and some of the active ingredients can start to break down over time – ultimately preventing them from providing full protection. 

How does UPF clothing offer protection?

While all clothing offers some level of protection against the sun, UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) clothing is specifically created to protect your skin from UV rays. UPF clothing is also tested to ensure that it consistently offers the advertised protection, despite being washed or worn many times. UPF clothing is also designed to offer consistent protection wet or dry; something that normal clothing can’t always provide. Dressing your children in UPF clothing is an easy way to protect your kids, limit the overall amount of sunscreen you need to apply (and reapply), and can give you – as parents – additional peace of mind.

Could one skip sunblock and just use the UPF clothing?

Sunscreen and sun-protective clothing are most effective when used together. While UPF clothing offers great protection, it only protects the skin it covers. That’s why sunscreen is still needed, for areas like your hands, neck, ears, and face. Sunscreen and UPF clothing work together to keep you – and your children – protected.

Tell me about the skin illnesses that children can have as a result of not wearing sunblock or wearing UPF clothing. 

UV exposure and damage from the sun is cumulative. That means that it adds up over time throughout your – or your child’s – lifetime. We also know that childhood is typically when we spend the most time outside. That’s why it’s so important to protect children now, as an investment in their future skin health, including preventing development of skin cancers later in life.

Children also have sensitive skin when it comes to the sun. When not protected properly, children can easily develop a sunburn. Some of the most common symptoms of sunburn include redness and swelling of the skin, painful blisters, as well as dry, itchy, and peeling skin. In more severe cases, a sunburn can cause fever, nausea, and faintness. Just one blistering sunburn during childhood can double your lifetime risk of developing melanoma.

Can these illnesses lead to any others?

Overexposure to UV rays is the leading cause of skin cancer in the United States, including the deadliest form, melanoma. Just one bad sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles your child’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. 

How do parents find UPF clothing? 

UPF clothing is now widely available. If you aren’t finding UPF clothing in the stores in your area, it may be helpful to look online. There are now a number of companies that specialize in this type of clothing and some brands that you already wear may also have UPF options.

What are some things to keep in mind when buying UPF clothing?

The first rule of thumb when it comes to covering up, is that the more skin covered, the better! Parents should look for long sleeve shirts and pants (rather than shorts) UPF clothing, and a wide-brimmed UPF hat. Parents should also consider the UPF rating and aim to get clothing marked with UPF 30 or higher. Lastly, UPF clothing can sometimes cost more than traditional clothing, so it is important to consider your budget (but remember that UPF clothing, if worn regularly, can dramatically reduce the amount of sunscreen you need)!

Is there a third-party that guarantees the clothing is “certified” UPF?

In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulates and oversees sun protective clothing and the UPF rating system. 

It is important to know that UV exposure – and the damage it creates – is cumulative and cannot be reversed. In fact, studies suggest that 40-50% of lifetime UV exposure occurs before the age of 20. That’s why starting sun protection young is the best way to prevent the majority of skin cancers, including melanoma! 


San Diego Moms is published every Saturday. Have a story idea? Email and follow her on Instagram at @hoawritessd.