Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Shirt Designs for Sun Protection

Academic journal article Journal of Environmental Health

Shirt Designs for Sun Protection

Article excerpt


Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun is an environmental hazard that cannot be avoided by workers, athletes, and others who enjoy the outdoors. One frequent outcome of excessive or repeated UVR exposure is skin cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that the incidence of skin cancer has increased at a rate of 3 percent per year since 1981 (American Cancer Society, 2004). Skin cancer often requires costly treatment, including surgery, and may cause facial or other disfigurement, if not death from melanoma, its most dangerous form.

Most educational programs on skin cancer prevention stress use of sunscreen lotion and cover-up clothing to limit UVR exposure Knowledge of the skin cancer risk and effectiveness of sunscreen and cover-up clothing does not, however, always translate into sun protection behaviors. Suntanning, a behavior that often causes skin damage, remains a popular lifestyle choice in the United States because many people believe that a suntan makes them attractive to others (Cokkinides et al., 2001; Hanley, Pierce, & Gayton, 1996; Keesling & Friedman, 1987: Reynold et al., 1996).

Some manufacturers and retail firms, recognizing the UVR hazard, have identified a niche-market opportunity in apparel designed specifically for sun protection. Both garments and fabrics are being offered through catalogs and via the Internet (L.L. Bean, 2004; Schakowsky, 2004; Sun Precautions, 2004; Textile Outfitters, 2004).

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) established a ranking and labeling system for manufacturers to use if their apparel products pass certain Ultraviolet Protective Factor (UPF) testing standards (American Society for Testing and Materials, 2003). UPF testing is a scientific way of rating fabrics by their UVR-blocking capacity. This labeling system is similar to the familiar SPF (Sun Protection Factor) ratings for sunscreen lotions (Stone, 2002). The total design of a garment, however--not just the quality of its fabric--is important for sun safety because fabric UPF cannot help if the garment leaves skin exposed.

If one assumes that attractiveness in design is important to consumer acceptance of protective cover-up clothing, it follows that an understanding of preferred clothing features might improve chances of cover-up clothing being accepted. To learn more about consumer attitudes and preferences with respect to sun-protective shirts, the authors conducted a survey during an lowa State University Extension sun-safety exhibit held at the 2002 Farm Progress Show in Alleman, lowa, September 24-26, 2002. The exhibit had both educational and research objectives. The educational objectives were to help people learn about signs of skin cancer, become aware of sun-protective behaviors, and make wise choices for sun-safe shirts. The research objectives were 1) to document consumer attitudes, risk understanding, and behaviors with respect to sun safety and 2) to define consumer preferences for protective shirt design and labeling. This article relates to the research objectives.

Literature Review

Clothing Design for Sun Protection

Studies of aesthetic and functional design and effectiveness of sun protection clothing other than hats is fairly limited. Aesthetic design preferences of specific consumer groups have been investigated with varying objectives and the findings have often been reported in relation to the demographic characteristics of the samples, but no preferences have been identified in relation to sun-protective clothing other than hats (Abraham-Murali, Kane, & Staples, 2001; Eckman, 1997; Feather, Ford, & Gerr, 1996; Hogge, Baer, & Kang-Park, 1988; Radeloff, 1991; Spruiell & Jernigan, 1982).


Hats have been studied primarily in relation to military personnel, farm workers, or youth whose occupations or activities require being outdoors and entail exposure to UVR. …

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