Skin cancer prevention

Be sun savvy and:

Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
Slop on broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF30+ sunscreen 20 minutes before going outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time spent in the sun.
Slap on a hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
Seek shade.
Slide on some sunglasses that meet Australian Standards.


Hats are an essential part of a sun-savvy wardrobe and should shade your face, ears and neck—for example, a wide-brimmed slouch hat, bucket hat or legionnaire hat. Features to look for include:

a brim of at least 8–10 cm
darker colours, especially for the fabric under the brim, to prevent UVR reflecting on to the face
tightly-woven materials—loosely woven straw or fabric allows UVR to pass through
Legionnaire-style hats—ensure that the front peak is 8–10 cm deep and that the fabric flap covers the ears and neck

Caps, sun visors and narrow-brimmed hats do not provide adequate protection for the ears, cheeks or neck.


The sun can also damage your eyes. Wear sunnies that meet Australian Standard AS1067 and fit your face—wraparound styles are the best. Look for:

compliance with Australian Standard AS 1067—check the label to ensure sunglasses meet this standard
sunglasses labelled ‘EPF10’ (Eye Protection Factor rating 10)
large close-fitting, wraparound-style, or those with side panels that allow less UVR to enter the eyes
‘general’ or ‘specific-purpose’ sunglasses—those labelled ‘fashion spectacles’ are designed as accessories only and do not provide adequate UVR protection.


Don’t forget about your feet! Closed shoes offer greater protection from UVR more than strappy shoes and sandals. Sun-protective swim shoes (which also protect your feet from hot or rough surfaces) are available for wear in the pool or at the beach.

Other clothing and accessories

There are many other ways to enhance sun protection and complement clothing design. For example, sarongs and scarves can be used to provide additional skin coverage when outdoors.

Sun-savvy fabrics

When choosing a fabric for clothing to be worn in the sun, consider:

Fibre type
Finishing processes
Wet versus dry.
UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor)

Fabric construction


Weave is a major factor that affects how much ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can pass through a fabric.
Closely woven fabrics allow less UVR to pass through than loosely woven fabrics.
In tightly woven fabrics, the space between the yarns is smaller, so only very small amounts of UVR can pass through (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The variation of Ultraviolet Protection factor (UPF) with weave density


When fabrics are stretched, the spaces between the yarns open up and the UVR can pass through more easliy.
The Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of fabrics such as lycra and elastane change considerably with stretch.
Tightly woven fabrics stretch less than knitted fabrics.

Fibre type

The type of fibre used can influence its UPF.
Some fibres such as unbleached cotton have natural pigments and lignins that improve their UPF.
Cotton, linen and viscose offer little protection.
Nylon, acrylic and acetate are also poor inhibitors.
Polyester is more effective against UVB (the radiation most responsible for skin cancer).


Heavier fabrics allow less UVR to pass through than lighter fabrics.
This effect is minor when compared to other factors such as weave and colour.



Dark colours provide higher protection than lighter colours (see Table 1). Dark colours absorb more UVR than lighter colours and, therefore, allow less UVR to pass through to the skin.
Light-coloured fabrics also reflect more UVR than darker-coloured fabrics and this UVR may be reflected onto the skin e.g. on the face.

Table 1.

The effect of colour on the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of cotton samples with identical weaves and weights













Source: Gies, Roy, McLennan, & Toomey (1998). Clothing and protection against UVR: Current status. Journal of the Home Economics Institute of Australia, 5(2), S10.

Finishing processes

When fabrics are being manufactured, some processes—for example, shrinking and sanforising (a preshrinking process)—move the fibres and yarns closer together. This reduces the amount of UVR that can pass through the fabric.
Bleaching decreases UVR protection, for example, bleached calico is less sun protective than unbleached calico.


Washing can increase the UPF of cotton and polyester/cotton fabrics.
After a garment’s first wash it may shrink. The spaces between the fibres become smaller, so less UVR is able to pass through. This increase in UPF lasts for the lifetime of the garment.
Testing for a UPF rating is done before the garment is washed. This means that the UPF rating may be somewhat higher after the garment is washed.

Wet versus dry

UPF reduces when fabrics are wet.
Cotton fabrics absorb more water than those made from nylon or polyester and hence, when wet, have a reduced UPF compared to less absorbent fabrics.


UVR-absorbing additives increase the UPF of fabrics.
UVR absorbers are added to lightweight fabrics so that cool and comfortable clothing can provide high protection from the sun’s UVR.
If possible it is important to check with the manufacturer that the effect of the additive will last with washing and sun exposure and over time.


The Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating system was devised to give an indication of how well fabrics protect against Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR). Australia was the first country in the world to develop a standard for testing and labelling of sun-protective clothing (AS/NZS 4399: 1996). UPF ratings on clothing range from 15–50+.

The table below outlines the UPF ratings assigned to various protection categories.

Ultraviolet Protection (UPF) categories in Australian Standard
(AS/NZS 4399: 1996)

Protection category


UPF Range

Excellent protection

40, 45, 50, 50+

40–50, 50+

Very good protection

25, 30, 35


Good protection

15, 20


A UPF rating of 15, for example, will reduce the amount of UVR passing through a fabric by a factor of 15. Another way of putting this is that only one‑fifteenth (1/15 or 7%) of UVR can pass through a fabric and onto the skin. A UPF of 50 means only one fiftieth (1/50 or 2%) of UVR can pass through.

The Australian and New Zealand Standard (AS/NZS 4399: 1996 Sun-protective clothing—Evaluation and classification) specifies claims that clothing manufacturers can and cannot make about the level of sun protection offered by their products.

Clothing that has undergone a number of scientific tests and has been found to provide significant protection against solar UVR may be labelled with a swing tag from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA, previously the Australian Radiation Laboratory) showing the garment’s UPF rating. The highest UPF rating for clothing is 50+.

Visit the ARPANSA website for further information about the UPF rating.