Protective Garments: Sunsmart Clothes

Figure 1.--Boys at this Australian school wear sunsmart cricket uniforms, long sleeved polo shirts, and long trousers made from UV proof cotton fabric, as well as broad brimmed hats and sunglasses.

It was once thought that a deep tan was a healthy look for summer. As we have learned more about skin cancer, modern partents are increasinly aware of the dangers of too much exposure to the sun. The concern is increasingly accepted in New Zealand and Australia. The growing hole in the ozone layer has creating great concer, especially in the countries cloesest to the hole. Clothing companies now market Sunsmart styles and schools are introducing sunsmart garments as part of the school uniform. Sunsmart styles may have a significant impact on school uniforms.

Skin and Color

The color of skin is caused by a substance called melanin. It is made by special cells called melanocytes, which are found in the epidermis. The melanocytes of people with darker skin simply make more melanin. Melanin helps to protect the skin. This is why people in tropical countries developed dark skin and people in northern countries where the sun is not as strong developed fair complections. When skin is exposed to sunlight the body makes more melanin. This can make skin look darker and give you a tan. A tan shows that the sun has affected your skin. Most fair complectioned people cannot make enough melanin to protect their skins against the strong sun.

Ultra Violet Radiation

Ultra Violet radiation, which can cause skin cancer can be very high in tropical countries. Concern over the dangers of exposure to the sun has grown, especially in Ausralia and New Zealand which are affected by the hole in the ozone layer. Dangerous levels of UV radiation can occur between 10:00 am and 4:30 pm. Researchers report that it only takes a few incidents of sunburn in childhood to trigger cell changes in the skin that present as cancer at a later age. That is why it is important to protect children from overexposure to the sun.

Sunsmart Clothes

Sunsmart clothes involve both styles and material. Sunsmart garments can include long sleeved polo shirts and long trousers. The best material is UV proof cotton fabric,. In addition to clothes, broad brimmed hats and sunglasses can nake an important contribution,

Health Authorities

The adoption of Sunsmart policies varies around the world. The campaign for Sunsmart clothes has been especially effective in Australia and New Zealand. This has required a major shift in public thinking in both Australia and New Zealand. People in those countries embraced an outdoor live-style which equated sun shine with health.

The Australian SunSmart Campaign has made significant achievements throughout Australia, in raising awareness of the issues of sun protection and skin cancer as well as encouraging changes in sun-related behaviour. Fewer Australians now see tanning as desirable or attractive and more people wear hats, sunscreen and cover up to avoid the sun. Australian health authorities promote "Slip, slap, slop," campaign to encourage people to slip on a shirt, slap on a hat, and slop on sunscreen. As a result, the incidence of skin cancer has decreased.

The success of Sunsmart programs in other countries is more limited. Similar programs are needed in tropical countries, but few tropical governments have promoted these policies, in part because they care generally underfunded and in many countries face more pressing problems. The fact that people in tropical countries tend to have dark skins provides them with more natural protection. Sunsmart clothes and living styles have not yet been whole heartedly accepted in the United States. Californians also embrace an outdoor life style and young people continue to want deep tans.

Figure 2.--Boys at this Australian school wear sunsmart cricket uniforms, long sleeved polo shirts, and long trousers made from UV proof cotton fabric, as well as broad brimmed hats and sunglasses.

School Uniforms

Sunsmart styles require substantial changes in school uniforms. The Australian Goverment has also introduced accreditation for schools that are "Sunsmart". It has been much harder to encourage schools to allow children to wear sunglasses at school. UV light can damage sensitive tissues of the eye causing cataracts and eye cancers. Many teachers reportedly that teachers find sunglasses to be a problem to manage in the classroom.

Generally, governments prefer not to rule on school uniforms, leaving the choice to local school committees. This often results in uniforms that are not up to Sunsmart standard, but schools get accredited because of shady playground areas, using sun cream, and having a "hat" policy. Many schools have a school uniform policy which bans the use of sunglasses. This may leave them open to litigation at a future time. Schools which do not adopt a sunsmart uniform policy may also be in danger of future litigation. The phenomenom of global warming and declines in the ozone layers may cause increasong UV levels increase. This will mean that Sunsmart clothes will be adopted at more schools.

Sunsmart clothes have to be chosen with environmental conditions in mind. One source suggests that the most protective garment to wear in desert conditions is a pair of navy-blue overalls in heavy weight cotton drill that are slightly too large.

Clothing Design

The Australian reader who provided much of the information for this page reports, "I'd like to do some more articles on the work we did on designing clothes for UV protection. The work has been accepted by the Cancer Council and much of what we discovered is now standard practice. HBC may be interested in how physical experiments were conducted. It's interesting to note that not all clothes is designed for fashion."

Christopher Wagner

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Created: June 14, 2001
Last updated: June 15, 2001