Ask the Pharmacist
by Ron & Marla Chapleau

August 8, 2016


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Q) I’m worried about the chemicals contained within sunscreens. Is there another way to protect myself and my kids from the damaging effects of ultra violet sun rays?

A) Other than staying out of the sun completely, the best way to protect oneself from the burning/ aging/ cancer causing effects of the sun is through the use of clothing.

In fact, some skin experts prefer this method to the use of sunscreens. This is not because of some perceived risk from the chemicals used in sunscreens (more on this in a moment) but due to the undeniable fact that the vast majority of people fail to use adequate amounts of sunscreen or to reapply as frequently as is necessary (every few hours) to gain the full benefits.

As to the safety concerns regarding the chemicals used in sunscreens; experts consistently agree that there is no proof these are harmful (there are a few studies in animals that have raised possible concerns over the years) even after many years of widespread use, whereas we definitively know that sun exposure will lead to another 80,000 Canadians being diagnosed with some form of skin cancer of which 6-7000 will be of the potentially lethal melanoma variant.

Getting back to our garments, all clothing to some degree impacts the transmission of UV radiation. The amount of protection is measured by a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating (sunscreens use SPF ratings). UPF measures blockage of both UVA & UVB rays whereas an SPF only indicates the degree of protection from UVB rays.

The higher the number, the greater the reflective qualities and the safer you will be. A UPF of 50 allows only 2% of the sun’s rays to pass through whereas a UPF of 25 would block all but 4% (and the number also serves as an indication of how many times longer you can be exposed to the sun before it starts to damage the skin cells underneath it).

When fabrics and ultraviolet radiation meet, the energy from the UV rays is changed. The radiation is converted to heat, a conversion that renders most of the ray harmless. Clothing must have a UPF of at least 15 to be marketed as UV- protective.

To put that in perspective, a white cotton t-shirt would have a UPF of between 5 and 8. Interestingly, laundering a shirt repeatedly can increase its protective factor since most detergents use optical brightening ingredients (these are the chemicals that allow Tide etc.. to make your whites “whiter than white”) that boost the disruption of ultra violet rays when they strike your garment.

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There are a variety of factors that make some garments more effective at changing these rays than others. These include the manufacturing (the denser & tighter the weave and thicker the fabric the higher the UPF), the dye used (it is the specific type of dye and the concentration used, not necessarily the colour, that impacts a fabric’s UPF), the “treatments” added, if any, (chemicals added during manufacturing that further disrupt UV radiation), the stretch (if a garment is stretched beyond 10% it loses much of its protection), the fiber type (polyester and nylon are excellent), whether it’s wet (damp clothing is less effective) and its overall condition (worn or faded clothing is less effective).  

The use of UVF clothing seems to be far less controversial for those concerned about the chemicals used in sunscreens, but there are still some who express concerns about the chemicals that are added by some manufacturers.

 For those, companies such as SunBusters and grUVywear guarantee that they achieve their respective UPF ratings without the added use of chemicals. In summary, UVF clothing is not a must do, but given that much of it is lightweight, breathable and fashionable, it makes a nice alternative for those who would prefer to protect their arms and legs in the hot summer by a more natural means.


 For more information about this or any other health related questions, please contact the pharmacists at Gordon Pharmasave, Your health and Wellness Destination in Kincardine and Port Elgin

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Monday, August 08, 2016