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Garden Edition: Sun sense for gardeners
Part Two: Protective Clothing

by Linda Coyner

An important part of a gardeners sun-protection defense is clothing, your own or clothes made out of new space age fabrics. My sun-defying gardening outfit consists of a lightweight T-shirt and shorts, sweat band, and sandals, but thats only during the safe window of early morning and early evening. If I were foolish enough to be out at high noon, such clothing would equate to a SPF 5 or 6 sunscreen, and about a 3 when it got soaked with sweat.

The ultimate sun-protective garb for high noon would be a tightly woven head-to-toe black fabric. Tightly woven to allow a few rays to reach the skin and black because dark colors have dyes that absorb more UV rays. Obviously thats not practical but a combination of the right summer clothes and sunscreen can do the trick.

With clothes, the bottom line is the more skin you cover, the better. And if you know what to look for, your wardrobe most likely has items in it that would provide good sun protection. Unbleached cotton, which contains pigments that act as UV absorbers, is a good choice. Shiny polyesters and satiny silk are perfect because they reflect radiation. Forget the bleached cotton, stretchy knits and loosely woven materials and anything that's threadbare or really worn.

There are easy ways to improve the sun protection of your favorite clothes. A laundry additive called Rit SunGuard, available in supermarkets, drugstores and online, works like magic. A single package, which I purchased at a local supermarket for about $3.50, treats an entire load of laundry. The active ingredient, Tinosorb FD, penetrates clothing fibers and absorbs UV light instead of letting it pass through. Adding it to a hot wash can boost the UPF (Ultraviolet Protective Factor) of a favorite white T-shirt to 30, a very good rating by the standards of the American Society for Testing and Materials. That applies even when its wet.

The ultimate amount of protection a particular garment will provide depends on such things as density of the weave, the fiber type and color. Theres no noticeable effect on the garments, as my husbands golf shirts can attest. SunGuard works its magic on white and light color cotton, linen, rayon and silk but not on synthetics like polyester or acrylic. The manufacturer promises that the protection lasts for more than 20 washings.

Most laundry detergents that make clothes look whiter or brighter also improve the UV protection of ordinary clothes. The optical brighteners they use act like colorless dyes to absorb UV rays.

If youre willing to spring for new duds as part of your sun-protection strategy, there are lots and lots of choices. Unfortunately theyre all pricey. The big names include Solar Eclipse, Solarweave (Sun Clothing), Solumbra (Sun Precautions), and Sun Solutions.

Sun-protection clothes are rated according to an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF), which measures the ability of a fabric to block UVA and UVB. UPF 30 means that 1/30 of UV rays can penetrate the fabric to reach the skin. UPF between 15 to 24 provides good UV protection;UPF 25 to 39, very good; UPF 40+, excellent.

The new garments promise to retain their UPF protection for the typical life of the garment. However, very old, threadbare or faded garments are likely to offer less protection.

Is it possible to wear this special clothing in the garden and still be comfortable? I decided to find out. I selected styles appropriate for garden work — button-up-the-front, long-sleeve shirts, what I call work shirts. They are all priced in the $50-to-$60 range. Midsummer garden tasks like mowing while the neighbor boy was on vacation, planting replacement annuals, digging a hole for the new fruit tree, weeding and spreading mulch allowed me to get up close and personal with these shirts in south Floridas summer heat.

All the shirts provide excellent sun protection, were lightweight and effortlessly wicked away perspiration.

Sun Clothing Hook & Tackle Women's Air/X-100 Shirt
One of my favorites for its soft feel against the skin and excellent ventilation. Drips dry. Zipper vents below the arms and across the shoulders allow maximum ventilation. Multiple storage pockets with mesh drainage. CoolMax mesh lining. Roll-up collar for added sun protection and roll-up sleeves with a tab. $65.

Solumbra Safari Shirt
This shirt got extra points for its silky feel and excellent ventilation. Choose one size up to get the roominess needed for gardening. Needed the dryer briefly to get out the worst wrinkles. Two front-button pockets. Vented back yoke backed by mesh panel; wide mesh inserts under the arms. $56

Solar Eclipse Cover-Up
Excellent roominess in this smock-like shirt with a long tail. 34'' length. The finish the the fabric was very dirt resistant. Not quite as nice against the skin as Sun Precautions and Solumbra. Needed the dryer briefly to get out the worst wrinkles. Two front-button pockets. Made with a patented fiber called Supplex nylon. $65.

Sun Solutions Clothing Casual Outdoor Shirt
Fabric feels like hi-tech sportswear. The finish the the fabric was very dirt resistant. Needed the dryer briefly to get out the worst wrinkles. Two front-button pockets. Tab roll-up sleeves. $52.


Skin Cancer Foundation
The US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)

Cancer Foundation

American Academy of Dermatology

Environmental Protection Agency

Iowa State University Textiles and Clothing Extension

Medscape (requires first-time registration)

Return to Sun sense for gardeners
Part One: Skin and Eye Protection

More about Gardening


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