By Dr. Maria Simbra

Follow KDKA-TV: Facebook | Twitter

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — To protect your skin from damaging sun rays, there’s sunscreen with SPF, or sun protective factor.

“An SPF of 15 means the skin will last longer before it burns about 15 times more than it usually would,” explains dermatologist Dr. Brian Horvath.

But, not everyone likes it — the feel, the smell, the need to reapply.

An alternative is clothing with UPF – ultraviolet protective factor.

“I think it’s a pretty nice option, especially if you’re going to be outside for a long time,” says one woman in North Park.

“Clothes with a UPF of 50 will only allow one-fiftieth of the amount of solar radiation to come through,” says Dr. Horvath.

The UPF rating comes from manufacturer testing with ultraviolet light meters, and with a seal of recommendation from the Skin Cancer Foundation, an international advocacy group.

“These shirts, pants, dresses, swimwear, and other fashions for the outdoors use tightly woven knits and sunscreen additives to block the sun,” Dr. Horvath said.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

Fit is important. These garments should not be too tight.

“When you move, the clothes will stretch inappropriately, open them up, and allow more sun to come through,” Dr. Horvath said.

So the sleeves and hems tend to be longer, and the necklines higher.

But, that doesn’t suit everyone.

“I just typically like to just wear a tank top and just feel free,” another woman in North Park admits.

Years ago, the fabrics were heavier, but now they’re more user friendly.

“They’re more comfortable, they’re more breathable, but they are a little more expensive,” Dr. Horvath said.

That can be an issue, because the more you wash them, the less effective they are.

A less expensive option is adding sunscreen to your own clothes in the washing machine — about $25 for six loads.

“There’s products like Rit Sungard,” Dr. Horvath said, “it makes the clothes more sun protective for about 20 washings.”

You could also cover up with your own untreated clothes, but that has limited sun-blocking power.

“A white cotton T-shirt has a UPF of about 7. If it gets wet, the factor goes down to about 4,” Dr. Horvath said. “Some of these sun protective clothing have factors of more like 50 or higher. They’re much better at preventing sunburns. Many people never take their clothes off at the beach anymore. Just wear these clothes the whole time. It’s just a lot easier than having to put sunscreen every two hours.”

As for skin cancers in clothing covered areas with regular clothing versus the UPF garb — that’s an area for future research.

Dr. Maria Simbra