Why Sun Protection Matters
Proper clothing is your first line of protection against the sun’s burning rays. Prolonged exposure to bright sunlight and sun transmitted through cloud cover can result in sunburns and premature aging. Worse, the effects of the sun are cumulative and irreversible. Every hour of sun exposure, every sunburn, all adds up over time.
It may surprise you that the sunburns of your past never go away. If you can imagine putting pennies into a piggy bank, every burn you experience keeps getting added to a bank account that eventually results in aged, raisin-like skin, or worse, skin cancer, the most severe being melanoma.
Both sunburns and suntans are caused when ultraviolet rays damage your skin’s DNA, which can be the first step on the pathway to cancer. For every round of golf you play without a hat, sunscreen, and protective clothing under the sun, you are adding more and more damage to your skin’s DNA, eventually triggering the formation of basal cell or other forms of skin cancer. And if that happens, the cancer must be removed with invasive surgery, leaving a terrible scar on the affected area.
Some not so fun facts about skin cancer:
- Melanoma is the sixth most common fatal malignancy in the United States, responsible for 4% of all cancer deaths and 6 of every 7 skin cancer-related deaths.
- One in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetimes, which means that each year there are at least one million new cases in the U.S. alone.
- Nonmelanoma skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are also on the rise, with two million new cases every year.
- Your risks for cancer are highest if you get one, heavy dose of sunlight infrequently, or if you constantly expose yourself to lots of sun every day.
To learn more, the Skin Cancer Foundation website has some excellent tips on how to protect yourself, and why golf’s leading touring pros take their warnings seriously:
Golf: You’ve got skin in the game
Sun protection tips for athletes and weekend warriors
PGA: skin cancer awareness (YouTube video)
The importance of UPF-rated golf clothing
The good news is that there is a way to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging UV-A and UV-B rays: shopping for UPF-rated golf clothing. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, a rating standard that measures the level of a fabric’s UV protection. If you are familiar with the SPF ratings used for sunscreen products, UPF is similar, except that it is used for rating the protection capability of a fabric. The higher the UPF number, the more sun protection it offers.
For example, a garment with a UPF rating of 50 only allows 1/50th of the UV radiation falling on the surface of the garment to pass through it. In other words, it blocks 49/50ths or 98% of the UV radiation. By contrast, a typical cotton T-shirt or golf shirt has a UPF protection factor of only 10, and an UPF of only 5 when wet. Not good.
So while an ordinary golf shirt can give you a bit of protection, under the hot summer sun, wearing a cotton or basic golf shirt can give you a false sense of protection. It’s even worse if you’re playing golf in the tropics or at high altitude.
Don’t get burned
How can you stay safe when spending long hours on the course under a relentless sun? Staying covered up, frequently applying good sunscreen throughout the day, getting an early start to play a round during the lower light hours (and avoiding the most intense burning rays that occur in mid-day), and wearing protective clothing are essential to proper protection from the sun’s burning rays. Wearing a golf cap (not a visor), or a full-brimmed hat, good sunglasses (rated to filter out UV radiation), UPF-rated clothing, a high collar, and long pants can do much to protect you. A long-sleeved golf shirt used to be something you would consider only for cooler weather. However, today’s modern synthetic fabrics incorporate stretch elasticity, moisture-wicking and cooling, and in higher quality shirts, UPF-rated sun protection, making a long-sleeved shirt or arm covers comfortable for even hot days.
If you shop around, you will find some golf apparel brands offering UPF sun protection as part of their line. But a closer look will reveal that most of these golf shirts have a UPF rating of only 30. While that’s pretty good, it’s actually the minimum level recognized by the Skin Cancer Foundation, and does not offer anywhere near the level of protection of the highest rated UPF 50+ sun protective fabric. When shopping for UV blocking golf shirts, keep that difference in mind.
Making UPF 50+ fabric is challenging and expensive, which is why many golf apparel brands don’t bother. It’s a steep requirement to make golf shirts that combine UPF 50+ UV blocking, softness, comfort, offer great wicking abilities to keep you dry and cool, along with four-way stretching to help you play your best. While UPF 50+ protection might cost a bit more, what is the price of keeping your skin healthy?
Other shopping tips: Look for golf shirts where the UPF protection is based on the density and type of weave in the fabric. Some golf shirt manufacturers simply add a chemical treatment to the fabric to provide sun protection. There are two problems with this approach. First, some people may have a physical reaction to a chemical coating, including irritation and skin rashes. Second, over time, relentless sun bombardment, extended wear, and multiple washings, that chemical coating can fade away, and with it, the UV protection of the shirt. We recommend shopping for UPF-rated golf shirts that achieve protection by how the fabric is knitted. This offers proven long-term protection that won’t wash out.
Be safe. Please.
We love the sun. But excessive exposure to the sun’s burning ultraviolet (UV) rays can permanently damage the skin. Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. Golf is an amazing sport, but the risks of skin cancer to golfers is especially high. We don’t want you to be among the 3.7 million Americans diagnosed with basal and squamous cell skin cancer, or worse, one of the 73,000 cases of melanoma each year.
With a little preparation and the right clothing, you can have your best round ever, stay cool and dry, and most important, stay protected from the sun. Happy golfing!
For answers to common sun protection questions please see our Sun Protection FAQ.