After her husband survived a bout with skin cancer, Lila Metcalf began checking her children regularly for spots and misshapen marks. Genetics put Juliana, 7, and Kaden, 4, at risk for the disease.
Metcalf’s children rarely leave the house without sunscreen or a hat, but getting them to wear UV-protective clothing is a different story. Even at that age, kids won’t wear something if it’s not cute and comfortable.
“I’m a mom, and I’ll forgo cuteness for sun safety,” says Metcalf, who has scoured the market looking for stylish UV-protective clothing for her children and her boutique, Urban Kidz in Scottsdale.
Now she and other mothers don’t have to: Designers are putting as much thought into style as in blocking the sun’s rays. UV-protective clothing has “gotten a lot cuter,” Metcalf says.
EVERYDAY CLOTHING GIVES FALSE SECURITY
Simply putting on a T-shirt and slathering sunscreen isn’t enough to block harmful ultraviolet rays in Arizona, which has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the country. Cotton Tshirts and other loosely woven fabrics have a UPF (the rating for fabric) of about 7; dermatologists recommend wearing at least 15. And if the garment gets wet — say you’re at the pool or the lake — the UV protection is cut in half.
If you can’t avoid the sun during the peak hours, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., clothing is your next line of defense, says Lorna Fredrikson, a dermatologist in Paradise Valley.
Sunscreen alone isn’t enough to block out UV rays, Fredrikson says. Most people don’t apply it properly (wait at least 15 minutes before going outside) or use enough (about 1 ounce per adult per application). You also have to reapply every two hours.
“I think it’s real important for kids, tennis players, golfers, hikers, joggers — anyone who participates in outdoor activities — to wear something that’s protective,” says Fredrikson, who regularly wears UV-protective clothing and advises her most sunsensitive patients to do the same.
Even Scottsdale and Chandler promote sun protection with their employees. Both cities encourage their lifeguards (who might spend up to six hours on duty) to wear UVprotective clothing, and Chandler buys it for them.
UV-protective clothing is made of colorless compounds, fluorescent brighteners and specially treated resins that absorb harmful rays. A typical UV garment has an UPF of 30 or higher — and, usually, a higher price ($15 to $80).
Regular garments can provide protection from the sun, but consumers have to be selective. Some textile fibers such as polyester crepe, bleached cotton and viscose are practically transparent to UV rays, so you probably shouldn’t wear them in the sun. But unbleached cotton contains pigments that act as powerful UV absorbers, and high-luster polyesters and satin reflect radiation.
UV-PROTECTIVE STYLES CHANGE WITH THE TIMES
UV-protective clothing was developed for patients with photosensitive skin or skin cancer. The priority was to protect, not to adorn. That’s starting to change.
Companies such as Cabana Life and Petit Patapon are making stylish clothing for children that are 50 UPF and retain that protection through at least 20 washes. Sun Protections, a company based in Washington state, is also trying to step up its adult lines.
Cabana Life founder Melissa Papock had no idea such clothing existed when she was diagnosed with melanoma at 26.
“I flashbacked to all those times I was on the beach putting on a T-shirt to protect myself from the sun,” says the New York-based Papock. “My regular clothing wasn’t protecting me.”
Wearing garish UVprotective clothing was an unsavory option for the freelance trend expert for Oprah and Vogue magazines, who thought she could design something better. She began with a women’s line, but opted to instead do a children’s line after a visit from a friend.
“Here I was with 200 stitches in my arm, and she just came from the tanning salon,” Papock says. “It’s really difficult to change the behaviors of people our age.” By designing for children instead, Papock hopes to change the attitude and behaviors of the next generation of would-be sun worshippers.
The 50-plus UPH of Papock’s 100 percent cotton short-sleeved shirts and shorts comes from the weave of the fabric and an agent added during dyeing.
“I wanted to make it something you would wear,” says Papock, who still recommends sunscreen in addition to the clothing.
MORE COVERAGE, MORE PROTECTION
Other clothing companies are trying to inject style into their clothing while keeping the added protection of long sleeves and pants.
“We can’t make things that are going to be tight or sexy,” says Lori Hughes, a designer for Sun Precautions. “We have customers who can’t walk to the mailbox without our product. We take head-to-toe sun protection very seriously.”
Hughes’ husband, Shaun, founded the company after being diagnosed with skin cancer at 26. The company’s patented fabric, Solumbra, blocks 97 percent of ultraviolet rays.
Hughes, who gets most of her ideas from shopping, says she looks at what’s trendy and tries to incorporate that into the designs.
“We’re trying to be functional, but we also want people to look good,” she says.
UV-protective clothing is still a boutique industry, says Howard Segal, owner of Scottsdale-based clothing company BUV Free, but that will change with time and greater demands for protection.
“People are still in the mind-set that they’ll just put on sunscreen,” says Segal. “Fifteen years ago no one would have paid $1 for bottled water. Now everybody does it.”
Sun safety What: Dermatologist Lorna Fredrikson discusses summer skin protection When: 6 to 8:30 p.m. April 13 Where: Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Conference Center, 9003 E. Shea Blvd. Cost: Free Information: Reservations required. (480) 882-4636
What: Trunk show for Cabana Life, a line of UV-protective clothing for children When: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday Where: Urban Kidz Clothing, 7000 E. Shea Blvd., Suite 1360, Scottsdale Cost: Free Information: (480) 483-6800
Places to buy UV-protective clothing
• AquaSafe Swim School, 9380 E. Bahia Drive, Scottsdale, (480) 425-7946 or
• East Valley Sports, 6306 E. Main St., Mesa, (480) 832-8172
• Synch or Swim, 126 W. Pepper Place, Mesa, (480) 827-9706
• Swimmers Edge, 1010 W. Broadway Road, Mesa, (480) 968-5325