Out in the glorious sun
UV-protective clothing is all the rage
Enjoying the hot sunshine of spring and summer is good for the soul! However, for children's sensitive skin, too much sunlight can be dangerous. Thanks to special UV-protective clothing that is particularly densely woven out of fibres with "built-in sun screen", responsible parents can effectively protect their children's skin from harm. Still a niche product just a few years ago, sun protection clothing is now very popular. But how well is this special clothing accepted by the kids themselves, and how do those around them react to people wearing long-sleeved shirts and so on in the swimming pool or bathing lake?
The international textile research centre at the Hohenstein Institute in Bönnigheim has investigated these questions. The team led by Dr. Andreas Schmidt, in partnership with a well-known manufacturer, kitted out 143 children aged between 2 and 14 with sun protection clothing. After a few weeks, their parents completed a questionnaire in which they assessed important factors such as wearing comfort, and outlined how the children behaved in the clothes and the reactions of other people and the children themselves.
The results were very pleasing: over 88% of the children (126) were happy or very happy to wear the clothes. Over 84% of the children (121) also judged the wearing comfort to be good. The concerns of parents that the children would find the mostly long-sleeved tops and ankle-length trousers uncomfortable when playing in the sun or in water proved unfounded, because the high-quality branded products dried really quickly. In addition, most of the parents followed the advice of Dr. Schmidt: "After being in water, children should swap their wet protective clothes for a dry set, to avoid the body becoming chilled. The same thing is recommended, incidentally, for "normal" swimwear."
The UV-protective clothing was mainly worn by the little volunteers in their own gardens (103/44.8%) and in open-air pools (81/35.2%). In the odd case, parents reported that the children had at first been prevented from entering the swimming pool by the lifeguards, on the grounds of their unusual swimwear. Only when the parents explained the reason were they allowed to wear the shirts in the water.
For Dr. Schmidt, these cases show that even among people who are closely concerned with sun protection because of their jobs, like the pool staff, there is still a great need for information about the benefits of UV-protective textiles: "With these special textiles, UV-protection factors (UPF) of 80 or more can be achieved - and permanently. That is a far better performance than cosmetic sun protection products can manage. It means that even a child with sensitive Type 1 skin can safely spend all day outdoors." Provided, of course, that all the parts of the body not covered by the textile are also adequately protected by sunblock. For Dr. Schmidt, the UPF also needs to be calculated by using realistic testing procedures.
"Reliable figures that also take account of the drastic reduction in UV protection that occurs when the fabric is wet or stretched can only be provided by measuring in accordance with UV Standard 801."
The participants in the trial and their playmates did not dispute the benefits of the UV-protective clothing, but there was lively debate about fashion-related aspects such as the choice of colour and the design. Here, even the youngest children had clear individual preferences. In his final report, Dr. Schmidt noted one of the main demands from the group of teenagers: "The motifs for size 140 and above were judged to be too childish and uncool." This is a problem that the manufacturers can surely quickly solve, so that nothing will then stand in the way of the triumphant advance of sun protection clothing. After all, 75.5% of the parents involved in the test said that they would buy UV-protective clothing for their children in future.
More information on the subject of textile sun protection is available online at www.uvstandard801.de.
What are the advantages of textiles as sun protection?
The protection from UV radiation that textiles provide is indicated as a UV protection factor (UPF = Ultraviolet Protection Factor). This corresponds to the light or sun protection factor (LPF/SPF) on sun creams. For example, a simple white cotton shirt may have a UPF of 10, while dense, darker cotton clothing reaches values of about 20. However, in special UV-protection textiles, special weaves and chemical fibres that absorb UV-rays can enable the UPF factor to reach as much as 80, as measured by the UV Standard 801, and are therefore far more effective than cosmetic sun screens.
How can you recognise textiles with a high UV protection factor?
You can't tell simply by the appearance how well a textile material protects you from harmful UV rays. That is why you have to rely on the manufacturer's product labelling when choosing suitable clothing. The leading European manufacturers have their products tested for compliance with the UV Standard 801 by neutral test institutions in realistic conditions. That is to say, parameters like wetting, stretching, rubbing and washing are taken into account. This allows the UV protective effect of a textile product to be realistically assessed, and this is shown as the UV Protection Factor on the label. The number corresponds to the light or sun protection factor (LPF/SPF) on sun creams.