Come summer, organic farmers Michelle and Danny Lutz of Yale, Mich., used to strip to T shirts and tank tops. But after Danny's repeated bouts with skin cancer, they learned the hard way that a typical white T shirt provides only the protective equivalent of an SPF-5 to -10 sunblock. Now the Lutzes, their three daughters and entire farm crew of eight cover up with sun-protective garments from a company called Coolibar (coolibar.com). The clothes have titanium dioxide in the threads and carry a seal of approval from the Skin Cancer Foundation. And despite the long sleeves, says Michelle, they're comfortable in high heat and humidity.
Not long ago, sun-protective clothes meant heavy fabrics and boring styles. But today Coolibar and its competitors are providing more comfortable materials, prettier fashions and attractive colors. Doctors welcome the trend. Sunblock, they note, is great, but few people apply enough. (A recent study found that almost half of teens got their worst burn of the summer while wearing it.) "The beauty of sun-protective clothing is that you don't have to reapply it every couple hours or worry about missing an area," says Florida dermatologist Susan H. Weinkle—although she says sunscreen is essential for areas that aren't covered by the clothes.
If you're shopping for sun-protective garments, look for an ultraviolet-protection factor (UPF) of 30 or more. Remember that the greater the area covered, the better. Or if you've already bought your summer wardrobe, try adding a 1 oz. box of SunGuard powder to your laundry ($1.99 at sunguardsunprotection.com). It treats cotton, linen and silk with a UV-absorbing substance that lasts for 20 washings. It's sunscreen for your clothes.