Monday Medical: Protect your skin with sun-safe clothing |

Monday Medical: Protect your skin with sun-safe clothing

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

Monday Medical

Editor's note: This is the final article in a five-part series on skin cancer.

When it comes to protecting your skin from the sun, most people think about sunscreen first. But there's another option that's just as powerful: sun protective clothing.

"Let's be realistic," said Dr. Maryann Wall, who is board certified in otolaryngology, head and neck surgery and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. "We are bombarded daily by ultraviolet radiation, whether we're inside or outside, in rain, clouds, snow or sunshine. No one thinks to wear sunscreen under their clothes. No one ever applies it every 90 minutes. No one applies it in the recommended quantities. The best way to protect yourself from damaging rays is to rely on sun-safe clothing."

When it comes to protecting your skin, not all clothing is created equal. A typical cotton T-shirt has a UPF, or ultraviolet protection fabric, of 5, which means one-fifth of the sun's rays can penetrate the fabric. If the T-shirt is damp, its UPF goes down to 2, allowing half of the sun's rays to pass through to the skin.

By using Wall's tips, you can keep your skin safe with smart clothing choices.

• Cover up: Choose long sleeves, high necklines, long pants and wide-brimmed hats. "I cringe when I see a young girl running at noon in a teeny, strappy tank top and shorts that are smaller than what I mail letters in," Wall said. "She's lost a great opportunity."

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• Choose the right fabric: UV rays pass through spaces in loosely woven material, so choose fabric with a tight weave and thick fibers that block or absorb sun. Denim, twill and tweed are all good options.

When Wall sees ranchers for skin checks, their faces, ears and the tops of their hands are often aged, while their legs are not.

"He's been wearing 'UPF Wrangler,' which has got to be close to 100," she said.

Elastic threads in stretchy fabrics are good, as the threads pull fibers tight and close holes. Shiny fabrics or fabrics with optimal whitening agents reflect sun, while darker colors absorb the ultraviolet radiation.

• Choose UPF-rated clothing: UPF-rated clothing is made to block ultraviolet radiation. With options that are comfortable, lightweight and cool, this clothing is ideal for athletes.

• Fashion don'ts: Don't wear a UPF-rated bikini or UPF sleeveless jerseys. Don't wear a baseball cap instead of a wide-brimmed had. Don't wear a base tan for protection — that only offers a protection factor of about 4.

And remember: Ultraviolet radiation is present all day, every day, so it's important to keep your skin protected. That rule holds even for people who have already spent years in the sun.

"It's never too late," Wall said. "You have repair mechanisms in your skin that can repair some sun damage. Don't take the easy way out and say it's too late."

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at

‘A blessing in disguise’

Finding melanoma isn’t always a bad thing. For I.J. Fisher, 78, it turned out to be a positive, as it allowed doctors to find and address early stage lung cancer.

Fisher stays active year-round: He’s worked as a full-time ski instructor for 23 years and bikes through the summers. It was during a ski lesson a few years ago that a client noticed a spot on Fisher’s head and encouraged him to get it checked.

He was glad he did. When he went in, Dr. Maryann Wall discovered it was a melanoma. Wall removed the melanoma, and since it had been severe, she ordered a PET/CT scan.

The scan showed an irregularity in Fisher’s left lung. After following it for two years, doctors learned it was early stage lung cancer, which they successfully addressed.

“If it wasn’t for Maryann, I’d still be out there biking regularly with the guys and wondering why I’m sucking wind and not keeping up,” Fisher said. “For me, it’s been an absolute blessing in disguise.”

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