Staying Sun-Savvy on Your Cruise

The newest trend in solar safety for tropical trips is sun-protective clothing

It used to be that everyone wanted the main souvenir from their cruise to be an enviable golden tan. But according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. It is among the most common forms of cancer, and one that dermatologists see increasing every year despite all the warnings. Passengers should just avoid the sun, but that is not why they cruise -- and there are things they can do to protect themselves against skin damage. But remember that infants age six months and younger should be kept out of direct sunlight altogether. Sunscreens may irritate baby skin, and infants' developing eyes are particularly vulnerable to sunlight.

Sunscreen Isn't Perfect

In the past, the best precaution against exposure�and sunburn�was to slather on a sunscreen with a SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher. However, most of that will be dissolved by perspiration (who doesn�t sweat in the sun?) or be washed away while swimming, and most people will neglect to keep re-applying it, despite the instructions on the product labels.

And remember that while sunscreens with identical SPF numbers may give you equal sunburn protection from UVB rays (Ultraviolet B), no sunscreen product can screen out all UVA (Ultraviolet A) rays. Some might advertise UVA protection, but as yet, there is no system to rate UVA protection.

If you are taking any medications, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist if that medication will make your skin sensitive to the sun. Certain antibiotics, diuretics, antihistamines, and antidepressants are among more commonly used meds that can cause problems.

Will Clothing Protect You?

That white tee shirt you wear over your swimsuit offers only an average SPF of 7, and when it gets wet, it drops down to only 3, because wet clothing loses up to 50 percent of its SPF. If you can stand a long-sleeved, dark denim shirt, you will have a complete sun block with an SPF of (Wow!) 1700 -- but who wants to wear denim at the pool or on the beach?

Color is also a factor. A navy T-shirt would have an SPF of 10, versus 7 for that white cotton tee. Thicker fabrics are even better. A velvet garment in dark green, blue, brown, or black would give you about 50 SPF. But if you have to bundle up for a ski trip instead of a day at the beach, why bother going outside at all?

Fabric content is also important. Unbleached cotton has special pigments that actually absorb UV rays, and high-sheen polyesters and satins reflect radiation. To test whether a fabric protects your skin, hold it up to the light: If you can see through it, then UV radiation will penetrate.

Even if the clothing has a good SPF, it will lose some of its protective quality if it becomes stretched, which causes it to become thinner and more transparent.

The Latest Fashion: Sun-Protective Clothing

Sun protection products are designed to be more stylish and user-friendly than ordinary clothes. For instance, swim wear is made of quick-drying fabrics, while golf shirts have more flexibility in the sleeves. The materials are treated with chemicals that absorb or diffuse the sun�s radiation, and each garment is rated so you will know exactly how much protection you are getting.

It is important to understand labeling information on clothing designated as sun-protective. The Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is similar to SPF, as they both measure sunburn protection. The difference is that UPF ratings measure how much of both ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA) is blocked. SPF measures only UVB protection. For instance, a UPF of 50 allows only 1/50th of the UV radiation falling upon the surface of the garment to pass through it, blocking 98 percent of the UV radiation. This knowledge is extremely important for people who have had skin cancer or may be undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.

Only a UPF of 15-50+ is allowed to be labeled as sun-protective. And, like regular clothing, care must be taken, as protective garments can lose their effectiveness if they are stretched or pulled, or become damp or wet.

Wearing and washing repeatedly can also lessen protection, but there are specialized laundry detergents with sun-protective ingredients that will maintain UV-protection for up to 20 washings.

Where to Find It

Look for a sun-protective fabric called solarweave�. It has a very tight weave with a very high level of breathability, and it uses a patent-pending, non-irritating process that allows maximum blockage of UV rays in a lightweight fabric. The combination gives solarweave© the ability to block 95 to 99 percent of dangerous UVBs. And tests have shown that the soft, cottony material can still block 95 percent of UV rays after two years of wear.

You might not easily find authentic sun-protective clothing in local stores, but if you Google the words "sun protection clothing," you will discover an increasing number of products, many ideal for your cruise -- sun and swim suits and hats for babies and toddlers, shorts, slacks, tee shirts, caps, hats, blouses, beach robes, and swim suits for teenagers and adults. You may also find at some of these sites the special UPF-rated laundry detergent needed to maintain your sun-protection wardrobe.

Coolibar, Solartex, Shady Lady, Solar Eclipse and Sportif USA are just a few of the brand names of this special clothing, while more established sportswear companies such as Columbia, REI and L.L. Bean are also jumping onboard. Among the more popular web sites:

To learn more about skin cancer or skin damage, talk with your family doctor, dermatologist or check out these web sites:

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