Author(s):Simone L. Harrison, Nathan Downs
Sunlight is a known skin carcinogen. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in humans, and typically affects sun-exposed parts of the body. Sunny Australia and New Zealand have the highest incidence of skin cancer globally. Clothing provides a protective barrier that reduces the amount of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) reaching the skin. Australia pioneered the development of a relative ranking of the sun-protective capabilities of clothing based on the transmission of UVR through fabric. Standardized Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) measurement procedures and associated labeling specifications are documented in the Australian and New Zealand Standard, AS/NZS 4399:1996. The standard was intended to enable consumers to make informed choices. Since its introduction, this standard has been adopted almost universally by the textile industry, and is still in use almost two decades on, with plans to revise it only commencing recently. However, AS/NZS 4399:1996 does not consider garment design, particularly in relation to body surface coverage. Although swim-shirts have grown in popularity in Australia since the late 1990s, particularly among children, clothing remains under-utilized as a form of sun-protection in contemporary society. Skin cancer prevention campaigns should emphasize the sun-protective benefits of clothing and collaboration with the fashion industry is urgently needed to improve the aesthetic appeal, comfort, durability and affordability of sun-protective clothing to increase its popularity in skin cancer prone populations. In light of recent evidence showing that high UPF clothing which covers more of the body surface reduces pigmented mole development in children (major risk factor for melanoma), the rating system for sun-protective clothing should incorporate body surface covered as well as the UPF of the fabric. We discuss progress towards developing a protocol for measuring the extent of coverage of sun-protective garments. Once fully evaluated and refined, the testing protocol developed from this research may influence future revisions of international standards for evaluating and classifying sun-protective clothing.
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