Health & Fitness

UV-protective clothing is now the hot fashion

The amount of clothing many of us wear in summer is, understandably, inverse to the temperature. Matters of decency aside, that might not be a problem if we wore enough sunscreen, but most Americans don't.

Just 18 percent of adults in the United States slather up before they go outdoors, according to a U.S. sunscreen study conducted by Neutrogena this year, and just 48 percent of Americans who slather up reapply sunscreen when they are exercising or swimming outside, even though many dermatologists recommend reapplication every two hours.

What's more, skin cancer is on the rise. It increased 10 percent from 2007 to 2009, according to the most recent procedures survey from the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

"The best sunscreen of all is a hat and protective clothing and smart behavior," according to ASDS President Jeffrey Dover. The problem, of course, is finding anything fashionable. The market has long focused on children and athletes, but over the past few years, a number of companies have been working to expand options for the rest of us.

Regular apparel simply doesn't offer the same sort of UV protection as purpose-built, sun-protective items. And, though a tightly woven textile in dark colors is better than a loose weave in a light color, few Los Angelenos wear black turtlenecks in the summer. Clothing that is truly sun protective is marked with UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, labeling, which is similar to the sun protection factor, or SPF, ratings on sunscreens and describes how much UV radiation a fabric blocks.

"I consider myself fashionable," said Sonja Gfeller, founder of Ayana, a UV-protective apparel line with the tag line "Skin care you can wear."

Gfeller, 45, was having a hard time maintaining her sense of fashion and also protecting her skin from the sun after moving from her native Switzerland to San Clemente, Calif., in 2003. She was tired of constantly applying sunscreen and she didn't care for the few items of sun-protective golf, tennis and hiking apparel she was able to find in stores. "There was nothing," Gfeller said.

Three years of research yielded fabrics from Japan and Taiwan that either wove zinc oxide, a UV blocker, into the textile or infused it into the fabric during the dyeing process. She started sewing those 45 UPF textiles into casual everyday items such as tunics, T-shirts, blouses, pants and skirts. This spring-summer season she expects to sell about 2,000 garments through her website ( and at niche boutiques.

Ayana's garments are made in L.A. and, like most sun-protective clothing items, are effective for a limited number of washings — about 40. They also need to be worn in conjunction with sunscreen because clothes don't cover everything. There are still exposed bits of skin that are vulnerable to the sun.

Shannon Farar-Griefer has a lot of experience with exposed skin. The founder of the Moeben SPF clothing line is an ultra marathoner who runs 100-mile races that subject her body, and her skin, to long stretches in the punishing sun, leaving her with basal cell carcinoma on her chest and arm. In 2006, she started making UV-protective arm sleeves in leopard print and other patterns and has since expanded her line to include dresses, skirts, pants and bathing suits that are sold at running shops.

"I grew up with the baby oil and the reflector thing with all my girlfriends out by the pool in Palm Springs, completely unaware of the damage sun causes," said Farar-Griefer, whose 50+ UPF line is made in L.A.

"The boomers now, we're paying for it. We didn't think 20 years ago that we'd have to worry about wrinkles or skin cancer. There are great UV fabrics out there, so why not wear clothes that will give you a little protection?"