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The best sunscreen protection from the elements doesn’t have to come from your sunblock bottle (although please use sunscreen, too). Instead, it can come from super high-tech running clothing designed to provide SPF protection you don’t have to reapply. Tightly knit clothing can keep the sun’s ray out, which can keep your skin from getting the type of damage during a summer run that can lead to wrinkles and age spots later in life.
Know Your UPFs
SPF stands for sun protection factor. But when we’re talking about clothing on your body, you have to look for your UPFs -- ultraviolet protection factor. A lot of running clothing may have a UPF listed, which can give you an idea of how well it’s going to keep you from burning. For example, a fabric with a 45 UPF rating lets in about 1/45 of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Just like with sunscreens, the higher the number, the more protected you are. The Skin Cancer Foundation classifies clothing with a UPF of 50 or higher as “excellent” sun protection. Your skin likes the sound of that.
Specially Treated Clothing
So a long-sleeved, dark denim shirt has a UPF of about 1,700, which is great, but you probably aren’t going to wear a dark denim shirt on your run. But there are a few lessons to be learned here: the tighter the fabric weave, the better the protection, and the darker the material, the more protected you are. Manufacturers take this a step further by creating high-tech clothing that’s tightly woven and darkly colored but won’t suffocate you like a wool turtleneck dress in 100-plus temperatures. These high-tech shorts, shirts and hats also may be treated with a colorless dye that helps to block the sun’s rays. Just like your sunblock, these clothing types should come with a tag that tells you how much protection is offered.
Don’t Be Fooled
If you are out running every morning in your long-sleeved white T-shirt, don’t let yourself think you are blocking all the sun’s rays. A white cotton shirt has a UPF of about 7, which isn’t really effective in preventing ultraviolet radiation (sorry). Plus, if your running clothes are older, they could be stretched out, which makes you even more likely to soak up the rays. If you are a frequent outdoor runner, make the switch to clothing with a listed UPF so you know the kind of sun protection to expect.
Add It Yourself
If you already have some running clothes you're really tied to -- maybe you always win in your lucky running shorts -- you can purchase a laundry additive called Sun Guard, which contains a chemical that helps to boost your clothing’s UPF, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation. Just add it in with your laundry detergent and wash. The Sun Guard typically lasts for about 20 washings, so it’s like your sunscreen and has to be re-applied.