Learn about: skin cancer, being SunSmart, and how to incorporate sun protection strategies into your day to day activities.

Generation SunSmart

Why baseball caps shouldn’t come to school

Eighty-four per cent of Western Australian primary schools have a legionnaire’s, bucket, or broad-brimmed hat as part of the uniform. There’s a reason for this – they are the best choice to protect kids from the sun and to reduce their risk of skin cancer.

However, around 16% of primary schools (and most high schools) in WA still allow their students to wear caps, even selling them in the uniform shop. If this is your school, here are the reasons why this needs to change.

Caps do not provide adequate sun protection
Baseball caps do not protect the parts of the body that are most susceptible to skin cancer, that is, the ears, the sides of the face and the back of the neck. Research backs this up, but it’s also pretty obvious if you have a look at the photos below.

Hats v caps

A study1 by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) tested common hat styles to determine how much UVR (ultraviolet radiation) protection was provided. It concluded:

Broad brimmed hats and bucket hats provided the most UVR protection for the six different sites about the face and head. Legionnaire’s hats also provided satisfactory UVR protection while the caps did not provide UVR protection to many of the facial sites.

ARPANSA looked at the amount of protection provided to different areas of the face and found that it varies significantly depending on the type of hat. The table below shows the amount of protection provided to different areas of the head by four types of hats.

Hats table - ARPANSA

The higher the protection factor, the better the hat.

On a sunny summer day, a fair-skinned person would receive enough UV radiation in 10-15 minutes to get sunburnt. If they wore a hat with a protection factor of 7 or 8, it would take 7 or 8 times longer to get sunburnt (i.e. 70 to 120 minutes). The table above shows that caps provide reasonable protection to the scalp and forehead, but virtually no protection anywhere else. That’s why we recommend either broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire’s hats they protect the sun exposed areas of the head and neck too.

Protect your head
Over the course of a lifetime, the head receives a vast amount of UV radiation. Therefore, it makes sense to protect it properly when the UV is 3 and above.

Evidence shows childhood exposure to UV radiation contributes considerably to the development of skin cancer in later life. Educating school children and reducing their UV exposure (for example, by getting them to wear a decent hat) will have a major impact on the future incidence of skin cancer in Australia – using sun protective hats will save us money while saving lives.

Over-exposure to UV radiation during adulthood also increases the risk of skin cancer. It is equally important that all teachers and staff members are aware of their own occupational UV exposure and protect themselves by wearing a brimmed hat when UV levels reach 3 and above.

Don’t wait until the horse has bolted
Once your school changes the dress code to allow caps, they are hard to remove. Parents buy them, kids wear them, and everyone thinks that the cap is preventing skin cancer (when it’s not). If the uniform shop purchases caps, there may be financial implications to consider before a new sun protective hat is introduced.

In addition, your school will not be eligible to be a member of the SunSmart Schools program if caps are allowed. There’s a reason for this – the evidence says caps don’t keep enough UV off your head. If your school community wants to introduce a cap or needs help removing them from the uniform, get in touch with the SunSmart team and we’ll provide support.

Our tips
1. Have the expectation that everyone wears a sun protective hat. That includes students, teachers, other staff, student teachers, and visiting PE or sport providers. It not only protects their skin, but it sends the right message.
2. Explain the health benefits of wearing the school hat to students. Sometimes kids think of wearing a hat as a rule to be enforced, and don’t see the connection to their health.
3. Above all, keep caps out of the school uniform.

For more sun protection support for your school, visit generationsunsmart.com or contact us on sunsmart@cancerwa.asn.au or phone 08 9212 4333.

1 Gies, P., Javorniczky, J., Roy, C., Henderson, S. Measurements of the UVR Protection Provided by Hats Used at School. Photochemistry and Photobiology, 2006. 82: p. 750–754.