Slip on a sun protective uniform to prevent sunburn and skin cancer
‘Slip on a shirt’ has been a part of the SunSmart mantra for over 20 years. Wearing sun protective clothing is the best way to protect your skin – after all, ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun can’t penetrate fabric, it stays in place and it won’t wash off.
Clothing acts as a barrier between the skin and UVR from the sun. But not all clothing styles and fabrics are up to the task. With children spending a lot of time in their school uniform, it’s important that uniforms provide as much sun protection as possible.
Fabric – UPF: Ultraviolet protection factor
A general and simple rule for deciding a fabric’s ability to provide a barrier to UVR is to hold the fabric up to the sun or a fluorescent light. If you can see the light coming through, it will allow UVR to penetrate too. This test is only a rough guide, with the scientific measurement of fabric being the only true test of its protective factor.
This scientific measurement is known as the UPF rating, which provides information on how much UVR will pass through unstretched, dry material. For example, material with a UPF rating of 20 would only allow 1/20th (5%) of UVR falling on its surface to pass through it, therefore blocking 95% of UVR. A UPF rating of 15 is considered to provide ‘Minimum Protection’, a rating of 30 provides ‘Good Protection’, and ratings of 50 and 50+ provide ‘Excellent Protection’. Any fabric rated above UPF15 provides minimum protection against UVR, which is why UPF50+ is recommended, especially for school uniforms. Check with your uniform supplier for UPF rating information on the fabrics used in your uniforms. If they don’t know, fabrics can be tested for a small fee.
There is a new Australian Sun Protective Clothing Standard (AS/NZS 4399:2017), which means that to be sun protective, clothing should also have certain body coverage. This includes: tops fully covering the shoulders and extending down to the hip line; sleeves that extend to at least as far as the three-quarter measurement between the shoulder point and the elbow; and bottoms that fully cover the body from the hip line to at least halfway between the crotch and the knee.
For school uniforms, the recommendations are:
- Look for clothing with higher necklines that cover the upper chest and collarbones e.g. crew necks or collared shirts with a buttoned-up, closed neck line. Some polo shirts have good collars but leave the delicate areas on the upper chest and neck exposed to UV when the buttons are undone, so encourage kids to button up.
- Look for longer style sleeves – at least to the elbows or three-quarters if possible. Longer style shorts/trousers/dresses/skirts are also best. They should at least cover most of the thigh but preferably reach the knee.
- Don’t forget the same standard should apply to Kindy shirts, dresses, faction tops and other sports uniform items.
If you don’t have specific items available to purchase in the uniform shop, ensure your school dress code considers sun protection, or that spare clothing is available. For example, if children arrive to Kindy in sleeveless dresses or tops, require them to wear an overshirt. In primary and high schools, consider having a minimum length of shorts and skirts, particularly for girls*
It’s important to choose clothing that covers as much skin as possible, but still allows ventilation to keep the body cool.
A uniform policy or dress code should consider clothing for various events on and off-site, such as sports carnivals, swimming events, excursions and free dress days.
Which type of hat?
Cancer Council recommends all students and staff wear hats that provide good shade to the face, back of the neck and ears when outdoors.
Suitable hats include:
- Broad-brimmed hats with a brim of 6cm for children or 7.5cm for older students and adults
- Bucket hats with a brim of 6cm
- Legionnaire hats with a front peak and back flap that overlap at the sides to protect the ears
Baseball or peak caps do not provide enough protection and are not recommended.
When selecting a hat to include in your uniform, consider:
- Fabric – ensure fabrics are not too heavy to keep heads cool
- Colours – consider a reversible hat with faction colours
- Design – hats face a lot of wear and tear from kids! Rigid brims may not look so great after being repeatedly shoved in school bags. Soft, scrunchable hats might be preferable.
For the best level of protection from UVR, use all five sun protection measures: clothing, sunscreen, a hat, shade and sunglasses.
*The most common site for melanoma in females is legs.
For tips on how to make changes to your uniform, email firstname.lastname@example.org