3 Things you need to protect yourself from sun damage

Posted on 3 December 2018

Dermatologist at Mediclinic Milnerton, Dr Karen Ordemann, tells you what to put on your list of protective summer gear, as well as the role UPF plays in protecting you from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Ophthalmologist at Mediclinic Durbanville Dr Burnet Meyer explains the role of UV protection and polarisation when it comes to choosing sunglasses.


Dr Ordemann says the first thing you need is a watch. Keep an eye on the time of day and the length of time spent in the sun. Remember that you should avoid the sun between 10 am and 3 pm and that you can burn even on cloudy days.

Suitable clothing

Then, you need the right gear that, together, play a huge role in sun protection. These include:

  • hats
  • rash vests
  • clothing made with high UPF fabric
  • umbrellas
  • gazebos
  • pop-up tents
  • pram covers
  • sunglasses
  • patches that show when you should get out of the sun

What is UPF?

“The use of fabrics in protecting us from the sun is underrated,” says Dr Ordemann. She explains that wearing suitable clothing offers simple and effective broadband protection. Just as your sunscreen has an SPF that indicates the level of protection it offers, so too is there a rating system for fabrics: the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), which measures how much UV radiation penetrates a fabric.

Are you getting the most from your sunscreen?

How to measure UPF

A cotton T-shirt on your child, over her bathing suit, doesn’t provide complete coverage. If you hold the fabric up to the light and you can see through it, its UPF isn’t that high.

A lot of summery fabrics don’t offer enough protection. And if the fabric gets wet while swimming, the UPF can be halved. That’s why the emphasis is on ‘suitable’ clothing. Choose fabrics that are specially manufactured to offer sun protection – they are densely woven and many of the yarns include UV absorbers like zinc oxide. This goes for your clothing, your hat (which should have a wide brim), your swimwear – and also sun umbrellas.

The Skin Cancer Foundation advises that you look for sun-protective fabrics with a minimum UPF of 30. A UPF rating of 30–49 offers very good protection, while 50+ gives excellent protection. They explain that a fabric with a rating of 50 allows only 1/50th of the sun’s UV rays to pass through. And don’t be put off by long-sleeved tops – the new moisture-wicking fabrics keep you cool.

Umbrellas are not enough

Even if you choose an umbrella with UV coating, keep in mind that you are not fully protected from the sun, especially on the beach, as sand reflects UV rays, increasing your exposure.

Choosing sunglasses

Dr Meyer says, when buying sunglasses, the single most important thing is to protect your eyes from UV radiation. Excessive exposure to UV radiation can cause many short- or long-term eye problems, such as cataracts, macular degeneration, corneal burns and skin cancer. Look for a sticker or tag showing that the lenses block 100 per cent of UV rays.

“Dark sunglasses without UV protection can cause more damage to your eyes than not wearing sunglasses at all. Look at how much you can see around the frames – the less light that reaches your eyes from the sides or top, the better,” he explains.

Polarised vs. non-polarised

Polarised sunglasses reduce glare, and can improve your quality of vision. An easy way to check if your sunglasses are polarised is to look at an LCD screen or the dashboard of a car. If you see a rainbow over it, it is polarised.

Some light-sensitive people, including post-cataract surgery patients and those continually exposed to bright light through windows, may feel more comfortable wearing polarised sunglasses even indoors.


Published in Cancer

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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