It seems like everywhere you look these days you see clothes or hats labeled "UPF 50" or "SPF 100." It almost seems like a marketing gimmick -- playing on our very real fears of skin cancer (the most common form of cancer in the U.S.) in order to charge more for a basic hat.
How does one make sense of those claims and those labels? How can you know that the claims are true, and that the sun protection you are getting is not at the cost of added chemicals to your clothing?
Your first move is to become more label conscious. Read the hat or clothing label carefully. An "SPF" claim is irrelevant -- SPF is for creams and lotions. The rating that you're looking for is UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor).
How to check your label:
1. You want a UPF 50+ rating. The UPF rating measures how much UV light (UVA and UVB) gets through the fabric. A 50+ rating indicates that over 98% of UV light is blocked by the fabric. Most summer clothing has UPF protection of less than 30.
2. Because UPF rating is an international standard, it is measured using a laboratory instrument and an artificial light source. Any hat or clothing with a UPF rating should be Certified, and the product label should state that. The company should also be able to show you the Certification for its products. Here's ours
3. You also want to make sure that the whole hat or article of clothing is protected. Areas of looser weave fabric or mesh will not offer protection. Some companies will tell you that on their labeling if you read carefully, others will not.
4. If you're concerned about added chemicals in your environment, you'll want to find out whether the UPF protection is achieved through fabric choice or by adding chemicals to the fabric. Again, the company website should be transparent about that.
The bottom line is that UPF rating is important -- too important to leave to trust. Make sure any hats or clothing you plan to wear in the sun have UPF protection, and review the label and website carefully for Rating, Certification, and Coverage.