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Protection against ultraviolet radiation by commercial summer clothing: Need for standardised testing and labelling


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The use of clothing as a means of sun protection has been recommended in recent education campaigns. Contrary to popular opinion, however, some fabrics provide insufficient ultraviolet (UV) protection. We investigated 236 apparel textiles of the spring/summer collections 2000 and 2001. In accordance with the forthcoming European standard the UV protection factor (UPF) of the fabrics was determined spectrophotometrically. Seventy-eight (33%) fabrics had UPF < 15, 45 (19%) had UPF = or > 15 and < 30, and 113 (48%) had UPF = or > 30 (30+). More than 70% of the wool, polyester, and fabric blends, and only less than 30% of the cotton, linen, and viscose fabrics had UPF values of 30+. Fabrics with black, navy-blue, white, green, or beige colours provided most frequently UPF values of 30+. It is difficult for the sun-aware consumer to choose the 'right' garment, with a third of summer clothing providing insufficient UV protection and only half of the fabrics having UPF 30+, the UPF recommended by the European standard. Therefore, apparel summer fabrics should be measured and labelled in accordance with a standard document.
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BioMed Central
BMC Dermatology
BMC Dermatology
Research article
Protection against ultraviolet radiation by commercial summer
clothing: need for standardised testing and labelling
Thilo Gambichler*, Sebastian Rotterdam, Peter Altmeyer and
Klaus Hoffmann
Address: Department of Dermatology, Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum, Germany
E-mail: Thilo Gambichler* -; Sebastian Rotterdam -; Peter Altmeyer -;
Klaus Hoffmann -
*Corresponding author
Background: The use of clothing as a means of sun protection has been recommended in recent
education campaigns. Contrary to popular opinion, however, some fabrics provide insufficient
ultraviolet (UV) protection.
Material and methods: We investigated 236 apparel textiles of the spring/summer collections
2000 and 2001. In accordance with the forthcoming European standard the UV protection factor
(UPF) of the fabrics was determined spectrophotometrically.
Results: Seventy-eight (33%) fabrics had UPF < 15, 45 (19%) had UPF = or > 15 and < 30, and 113
(48%) had UPF = or > 30 (30+). More than 70% of the wool, polyester, and fabric blends, and only
less than 30% of the cotton, linen, and viscose fabrics had UPF values of 30+. Fabrics with black,
navy-blue, white, green, or beige colours provided most frequently UPF values of 30+.
Conclusions: It is difficult for the sun-aware consumer to choose the 'right' garment, with a third
of summer clothing providing insufficient UV protection and only half of the fabrics having UPF 30+,
the UPF recommended by the European standard. Therefore, apparel summer fabrics should be
measured and labelled in accordance with a standard document.
The incidence of skin cancer has been increasing at an
alarming rate over the past several decades. While there
are many factors involved in the onset of melanoma and
non-melanoma skin cancers, overexposure to ultraviolet
radiation (UVR) has clearly been identified as an impor-
tant factor. High levels of exposure in childhood have
been associated with greater proneness to develop skin
cancer. Whether this is due to the skin being particularly
sensitive to sunlight in childhood or due to a large pro-
portion of total lifetime dose accumulating over this pe-
riod is not known, as most of a lifetime of UV exposure
occurs during childhood and adolescence [1,2]. In the
past few decades, sun protection campaigns have been
initiated in Australia, the United States, and Europe to
educate the population about sensible behaviour in the
sun. These campaigns, principally targeted towards the
protection of children, tried to change attitudes regard-
ing the idealisation of the darker complexion and the sta-
tus symbol of tanned skin. Apart from avoidance of the
Published: 25 October 2001
BMC Dermatology 2001, 1:6
Received: 25 September 2001
Accepted: 25 October 2001
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BMC Dermatology 2001, 1:6
sun, especially at peak hours, the most frequently used
form of UV protection is the application of sunscreens.
Since suitable clothing offers usually simple and effective
broadband protection against the sun, the use of fabrics
has been highlighted in recent education campaigns.
Contrary to popular opinion, however, some fabrics pro-
vide insufficient UV protection [3]. We conducted a
study on a great number of commercial apparel fabrics
designed for recent spring/summer collections.
Material and methods
We investigated 236 apparel fabrics of the spring/sum-
mer collections 2000 and 2001. The fabrics were provid-
ed by a leading European garment manufacturer (Klaus
Steilmann GmbH & Co. KG, Bochum, Germany). The
mean ± SD weight of the fabrics was 158 ± 51,5 g/m
(range: 39–275 g/m
). In accordance with the forthcom-
ing European standard [4] the UV protection factor
(UPF) of the fabrics was determined spectrophotometri-
cally in the laboratory as it has previously been described
in detail [5,6]. Correspondingly, the fabrics were investi-
gated unstretched and in dry condition [4]. In short, we
used a Cary 500 UV/Vis/NIR spectrophotometer (Vari-
an Deutschland GmbH, Darmstadt, Germany). Direct
and diffuse UV transmission was assessed with the aid of
an integrating sphere. In order to minimize any meas-
urement error that might be caused by fluorescent prop-
erties of the fabrics a UG-11 filter (Schott, Mainz,
Germany) was used. The spectrophotometric measure-
ments were carried out in the wavelength range of 290–
400 nm in 1 nm steps.
With the aid of a computer-controlled autosampler, the
fabric samples (3 × 4 cm) were transported from the
sample magazine into the measurement position in front
of the integrating sphere [6,7]. Four samples of each fab-
ric were investigated. So, 16 single measurements both in
machine and cross-machine directions were performed
for each fabric. To determine the UPF, the spectral irra-
diance (both source and transmitted spectrum) was
weighted against the erythema action spectrum pro-
posed by the CIE. For each sample of a fabric, a mean
UPF value was calculated, and the lowest of the 4 sam-
ples was considered the in vitro UPF of the fabric [4]. The
UPF was rated as follows: 0+ (UPF <5); 5+ (5 UPF <
10); 10+ (10 UPF < 15); … 50+ (UPF 50).
Results and Discussion
As shown in Figure 1, 78 (33%) fabrics had UPF <15
(red), 45 (19%) had UPF 15 and < 30 (yellow), and 113
(48%) had UPF 30 (green). More than 70% of the wool,
polyester, and fabric blends, and less than 30% of the
cotton, linen, and viscose fabrics had UPF values of 30+
(Tab. 1). Fabrics with black, navy-blue, white, green, or
beige colours provided most frequently UPF values of
30+. Detailed data of white and black fabrics are shown
in Figure 2.
As parameters are rarely independent, systematic re-
search to quantify the effect of various manufacturing
methods is difficult. The UPF of a garment depends on a
number of factors, including fabric construction, type,
colour, weight, thickness, finishing processes, and pres-
ence of additives such as UV absorbing substances (e.g.,
titan dioxide, brightening agents), etc [3]. Moreover, the
UV protection provided by a garment during use de-
pends on wash and wear, including stretch and wetness
[3]. Thus, the UPF of a fabric is influenced by fabric
properties and the complexity of interaction between
these properties makes it impossible to predict the UPF
or to generalize comparison between e.g. cotton vs poly-
ester (Tab. 1) or black vs white (Fig. 2), nor is it sufficient
to hold a fabric to the light and assess the amount of light
seen through the spaces.
Figure 1
UPF rating of 236 commercial summer fabrics of different
fibre type, construction, and colour
Figure 2
UPF rating of white (n = 40) and black (n = 44) summer fab-
rics of different fibre type and construction
0+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ 25+ 30+ 35+ 40+ 45+ 50+
UPF rating
Number of fabrics
0+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ 25+ 30+ 35+ 40+ 45+ 50+
UPF rating
Number of fabrics
BMC Dermatology 2001, 1:6
The aim of the presented study was to investigate UV
protective properties of typical summer fabrics that are
currently available on the market. Although it was not
possible to study the parameters independently we have
demonstrated the following trends. Polyester and wool
fabrics usually provide sufficient UV protection (UPF
30+), while other fabrics, such as cotton, linen, and vis-
cose, frequently offer poor UV protection. We showed
that dark-coloured fabrics frequently have UPF values of
30+. Nevertheless, also white fabrics may provide suffi-
cient UV protection depending on other parameters such
as tightness of weave and fibre type. The most striking
result however is the fact that 78 fabrics (33%) have an
insufficient UPF of less than 15, and only 113 fabrics
(48%) fulfilled the requirements of the European stand-
ard for UV protective clothing, that is UPF 30+ [4]. Sim-
ilar results have been found in previous studies
performed in Switzerland, Germany, and Australia [8
The question arises, how would the sun-aware consumer
be able to choose the 'right' garment, with a third of sum-
mer clothes providing insufficient protection and only
about a half of the fabrics providing UPF 30+ as recom-
mended by the forthcoming European standard, respec-
tively?! Therefore, UV protection of apparel fabrics
should be measured and labelled in accordance with a
standard document. This is especially true for children's
clothing. A UPF of 30+ may be resistant against the ef-
fects of stretch, wetness, and environmental stresses. Be-
sides, UPF values obtained by measurements in real
exposure situations are usually higher than those ob-
tained by conventional laboratory testing which repre-
sents a 'worst-case scenario' (11–13). Apart from a
sufficiently high UPF the design of the garment is the
crucial factor in sun protection by clothing. The Europe-
an standard [4] includes therefore the following strin-
gent requirements for the design of garments: 1) clothing
designed to offer UV protection to the upper body must
provide at least coverage from the base of the neck down
to the hip and across the shoulders down to three quar-
ters of the upper arm 2) clothing designed to offer pro-
tection of the lower body (from the waist to below the
patella) must similarly provide complete coverage (Fig.
In reality, in European countries such as Germany there
is only a market for children's UV protective clothing.
Correspondingly, there are only a few manufacturers and
traders in Germany dealing UV protective clothing and
most of them provide exclusively UV protective clothing
for children. By contrast in Australia, which has consid-
erably higher levels of solar UV radiation and higher in-
cidences of skin cancer, State Cancer Councils sell
sunscreens, sunglasses, hats, and UV protective clothing
to the public at a reasonable cost – an important attempt
to widen their use [9,10].
Commercial summer fabrics frequently provide insuffi-
cient UV protection. Since it is difficult for the sun-aware
consumer to choose the 'right' UV protective garment,
apparel summer fabrics should be measured and labelled
in accordance with a standard document.
List of abbreviations
Ultraviolet radiation: UVR; ultraviolet protection factor:
Table 1: UPF rating of 236 summer fabrics of different fibre types
CO 13223 1 2
(n = 14)
WO 128
(n = 11)
LI 11 10 8 6 1
(n = 36)
VI 2676124222111
(n = 64)
PA 613 6
(n = 16)
PL 1 2 11 2333
(n = 43)
(n = 52)
rating 0+ 5+ 10+ 15+ 20+ 25+ 30+ 35+ 40+ 45+ 50+
CO = cotton ; WO =wool; LI =linen; VI =viscose; PA =polyamide; PL =polyester;
different mixtures of polyester, linen, viscose, and cotton fabrics
BMC Dermatology 2001, 1:6
Competing interests
None declared
We are very grateful to Mr Roger Schmidt (Klaus Steilmann Institut für In-
novation und Umwelt GmbH, Bochum-Wattenscheid, Germany) who pro-
vided us the fabric materials for the measurements. This study was
supported in part by grant 07UVB60A/2 from the German Ministry of Sci-
ence and Technology.
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Figure 3
Example for a collection of sun protective clothing for chil-
dren. The design of these clothes fulfills the requirements of
the forthcoming European standard [4]
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This article was written to update information on test methods and standards for determining the UV protection of apparel textiles and on factors affecting UV protective properties of fabrics, from dermatological and textile technological viewpoints. Articles from dermatological and textile technological journals published from 1990 to 2001 were identified from MEDLINE, Excerpta Medica/EMBASE, World Textiles, and Textile Technology Digest. Peer-reviewed dermatological articles, textile technological research articles, and normative publications were selected. Independent data extraction was performed by several observers. Spectrophotometry is the preferred method for determining UV protection factor of textile materials. Various textile qualities affect the UV protection factor of a finished garment; important elements are the fabric porosity, type, color, weight, and thickness. The application of UV absorbers in the yarns significantly improves the UV protection factor of a garment. With wear and use, several factors can alter the UV protective properties of a textile, including stretch, wetness, and degradation due to laundering. Standards in the field exist in Australia and Great Britain, and organizations such as the European Standardization Commission in Europe and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists and the American Society for Testing and Materials in the United States are also establishing standards for the determination and labeling of sun protective clothing. Various textile qualities and conditions of wear and use affect UV protective properties of apparel textiles. The use of UV blocking fabrics can provide excellent protection against the hazards of sunlight; this is especially true for garments manufactured as UV protective clothing.
This book provides a detailed review of the field of skin cancer and UV radiation and is an excerpt of the International Congress on Skin Cancer and UV Radiation held in Bochum/Germany in October 1996. Internationally reknown scientists who have been working in this field for decades have contributed to this book and give a profound insight into the field skin cancer and UV radiation. After presenting the basic aspects of UV radiation and its effect on human skin, the reader is introduced to various fields relating to skin cancer and sun light: risk factors, prevention, sun protection, screening, and diagnostics of skin cancer. Finally, different skin cancer therapies and treatment modalities are presented, compared, and discussed. The book also covers the field of photobiology and phototherapy by giving an overview of the basic aspects as well as the latest results in research and clinical medicine.
Laboratory testing of the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) provided by fabrics normally utilizes a collimated source of UV radiation and either a broadband sensor or spectroradiometer to detect the radiation, both unattenuated and after passing through the fabric sample held in a flat tensionless state. We report the results of an in vivo study of UV transmission through various T-shirts at several sites on the trunk and arms of a life-size mannequin irradiated with diffuse radiation and using UV sensitive polymer films as the sensor. We found a variation in UPF by a factor of two or more at different anatomical sites for a given T-shirt, with lower UPFs seen at sites where the fabric is stretched; and found that at every site and for each T-shirt this in vivo UPF was higher than the conventional in vitro UPF determined using collimated radiation.
Childhood is a high-risk period for skin damage due to excessive sun exposure. This damage may lead to skin cancer later in life. The present study measured children's knowledge and attitudes, and reported usual behavior relevant to sun protection and parents' encouragement of their children's sun protection among a sample of 735 primary school students and their parents, in Victoria, Australia. The incidence of sunburn among the children over late spring and early summer was monitored weekly for 8 weeks. The results indicate that children's knowledge of sun protection is moderately high and that positive sun protection attitudes, reported frequency of parents encouraging protection, and children carrying out sun protection are generally high. Trends for age indicate that while knowledge of sun protection increases with age, attitudes and behaviors supportive of sun protection decline. Sunburn rates increase with age. There was some evidence to suggest that children with fairer coloring receive greater encouragement from parents to protect themselves and are marginally better protected than children with darker coloring. However, this highly susceptible group still suffers more burns. There was little variation based on children's gender. The mid-primary school years may be a critical time for interventions promoting sun protection.
The spectral ultraviolet (UV) transmission through stockings was measured in field and laboratory based trials using a spectroradiometer. From these spectral UV measurements, the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) was calculated. The UPF of stockings measured in the field was generally higher than that measured in the laboratory when using a quartz tungsten halogen light as the UV source. The UPF of 50 denier stockings decreased 868% when stretched 30% from their original size. Doctors recommending and patients using high denier stockings for patient photoprotection should be aware of the dramatic decrease in UPF when the stocking is in a stretched position, such as over a human leg.
Clothing is regarded as an efficient tool for sun protection. Recently, we have learnt that the transmission of UV radiation (UVR) differs substantially between clothing materials. The protection afforded by a light-coloured cotton shirt is equivalent to a sun protection factor of approximately 10 [1]. UV protection by clothing depends on a large variety of factors, such as type of fibre, colour or moisture content [2]. In summer 1997, the Swiss Cancer League started to focus on these facts during the yearly sun protection campaign. A special education campaign under the title ‘How sunproof are your clothes?’ was initiated to gain public interest in 1997 and 1998. This campaign was also run by the health departments of 9 cities in the German federal state of Lower Saxony in summer 1998 and attracted significant attention in the media.
Ambient solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) has been monitored around Australia by the Australian Radiation Laboratory (ARL) and its successor ARPANSA since the mid 1980's using a network of radiometric detectors and a spectroradiometer (SRM) for spectral measurements, based in Melbourne. In a continent the size of Australia, the levels vary markedly, basically following a latitude gradient increasing towards the equator but with local geographical and weather effects also evident. ARL also conducts personal exposure studies of various population groups in collaboration with other research centres to gather information on what fraction of the ambient UVR people receive. ARL also undertakes studies on the UVR protection provided by sunscreens, clothing, hats, sunglasses and other materials in an attempt to improve UVR protection used by the public.
Skin cancer is increasing worldwide, and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is thought to be the most important risk factor [1, 2]. Outdoor professionals and people practising outdoor sports are considerably exposed to solar UV radiation [3]. We have reported high personal UV exposure in cycling professionals up to about 17 MED/day [4]. Obviously, adequate protection is mandatory. Here, a sports dress can offer high-quality protection against UV radiation. In Europe a standard of solar UV-protective properties of textiles is being discussed (European Committee for Standardisation CEN/TC248 WG14).
Apart from sunscreen lotions, clothing provides protection from acute and chronic sun damage. Therefore, it is very important to know the ultraviolet (UV) protection factor (UPF) of textiles, in particular of lightweight summer clothing. Usually, the UPF of a textile is determined by spectrophotometric assessment of the UV transmission (in vitro method). To compare the relationship between in vitro tests and in vivo tests of UPF using solar simulators for determination of the minimal erythema dose (MED), applied to 30 different summer textiles. Thirty summer textiles were spectrophotometrically assessed, and UPFs were calculated with respect to the International Commission on Illumination (CIE) erythemal action spectrum.1 Based on the in vitro UPFs 'on skin' and 'off skin', in vivo testing was performed using a solar simulator for the determination of the MEDunprotected and MEDprotected. The UPFs obtained from in vivo 'on skin' testing were significantly (r = 0.95; P < 0.001) lower than the predicted in vitro UPFs. This disparity was also confirmed by chromometric assessment of the MED testing; the erythemal responses measured after textile protection were significantly (P < 0.001) higher than those obtained without protection. However, the in vivo 'off skin' UPFs did not significantly (r = 0.98; P > 0.05) differ from the in vitro UPFs; comparison of the chromometrically assessed erythemal responses was also insignificant (P > 0.05). The different correlation between in vitro and in vivo measurements of the UPF may be due to the optical-geometrical properties of textiles and the different amount of direct and diffuse radiation passing through the spaces between the yarns. As spectrophotometric measurements of a textile may generally yield lower UPFs than those obtained under average field conditions, the in vitro test method provides 'safe' UPF values representing a 'worst-case scenario'. In contrast to in vitro testing, in vivo methods are much more expensive and time-consuming. Thus, with respect to practicality, spectrophotometric measurements seem to be most suitable for the evaluation of UV protection of textiles.