Hats: Harmful or Helpful?

In a recent poll I asked if you thought hats were great SPF sun protection. Most of you said yes, and you were...mostly correct. Hats are a great way to ADD to your sun protection routine, however they do not replace sunscreen, and not all hats are created equal.

Baseball caps. Our misleading protector. A baseball cap only protects a portion of the face, leaving the back of the neck, sides of the face, and décolleté exposed. If you depend on a baseball hat, wrinkles, uneven pigment, and skin cancers will be abundant and problematic on your cheeks, crows feet, nose, and ears. You also need to take into consideration the type of material the hat consists of. Is the back of the hat mesh or canvas? If you said yes, a lot of UV light is still passing through. The easiest way to test if a fabric can protect your skin is to hold it up to the light. If you can see through it, then UV radiation can penetrate it - and your skin. Speaking of UV light passing through...

Shocker alert: did you know a white T-shirt has an spf of 7? Say what?! It’s true. A lot of UV light is filtering through, just like a car window.

And when a shirt gets wet, that spf goes even lower! You typically will not get a sunburn as the UV rays penetrating will not be potent enough to “burn” the skin, however the damage you are still receiving from UVA is real. UVA burns less but still is very potent at causing wrinkles, pigment problems, and skin cancer. Easy remedy? Pick darker colors when you are outside as that absorbs more UV days and sprinkle a laundry aid like sun guard into your wash. This easy step can bring the UPF to a 30, or you can buy clothing with a tested UPF.

Sun protection fact: on cloudy days, sunlight is more scattered. This means a hat is not going to give as much protection to your face, neck, and ears. 

Wide brim hats are the obvious choice for ultimate sun protection, however if you find yourself gravitating to the straw hats, think again. Consider hats composed of straw and mesh in the same poor protection category- unless it has been tested for its UPF, showing it’s woven tightly enough to provide sun protection- its probably equivalent to an SPF of 15 or less.

So, what do you look for?

For hats and clothing, Polyester does an excellent job at disrupting UV light, as does nylon. Wool and silk are moderately effective. Cotton, rayon, flax and hemp fabrics are typically the least protective, unless treated by something else. Look for established UPF hats which take the guessing game out of the fabric. Typically at least a 4 inch brim should be worn, but if you want to go up to 6 inches your skin will thank you later!

Overall, hats are a wonderful tool to compliment your skin care routine, just never forget to add the sunscreen!