Suds for UV protection


If you’re looking for extra protection from the sun’s UV rays, your laundry detergent may come in handy, writes TEE SHIAO EEK. 

CROSSING Jalan Ampang, KL, to get to KLCC, you feel the afternoon sun beating down on your back. This might be a good time to think about whether you are adequately protected from the sun’s harmful UV rays. 

You don’t use sunscreen, because it lasts for all of five minutes before it melts and trickles down your skin. You can’t be bothered to carry an umbrella, because you keep losing them.  

So you comfort yourself by thinking that your clothes, at least, cover your skin and provide some defence against the sun. But do they really? 

All covered up 

Clothing on its own is a form of protection from the sun, says general manager of marketing at Unza (Malaysia) Francis Ng. However, the amount of protection it offers depends on the type of fabric and its colour.  

Francis Ng ... 'The detergent has an invisible dye that coasts your fabric to increase the UPF.'

“For example, what I’m wearing today,” says Ng, fingering his crisp white cotton shirt, “may (only) give you a protection of about UPF six. This is insufficient.” 

According to dermatologists, an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of at least 15 is required for 90% protection against the harmful rays of the sun.  

UPF is the current accepted quantitative scale for measuring sun protection in clothing. The rating indicates how much of the sun’s UV radiation is absorbed by the fabric. The higher the UPF, the greater the sun protection.  

“Lighter-coloured fabrics provide less protection against ultraviolet (UV) rays. Darker-coloured fabrics give you better protection, but the downside is that (they) tend to be warmer,” adds Ng. 

As a rule of thumb, if you can see light through a fabric, it means that ultraviolet rays can penetrate it.  

“It also depends on the ‘knit’ of the fabric. Cotton may have wider gaps as opposed to polyester,” he says, referring to the weave of the fabric. A tight weave, like polyester, denim or wool, will offer more protection, but it is warmer and less comfortable. 

“People don’t often think about wearing fabric that has UV-protection, or buying fabric that is designed for sun protection,” says Ng. 

However, sun protection is a serious health issue, especially in Malaysia, where we are exposed to the sun all year round. The US National Cancer Institute warns that UV radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer.  

Ng is concerned that with the sun’s damaging effects accumulating at an early age, schoolchildren are the most vulnerable group.”School children are constantly being exposed to sun, and most school uniforms are made from white cotton. They actually have very minimal protection,” he points out.  

It’s in the suds 

In our climate, where sunscreen, long-sleeved shirts and dark-coloured clothes can be a hassle, UV-protective detergent may be a far more practical solution, says Ng. 

Yes, even laundry detergent has turned sun-protective now. The Skin Cancer Foundation in the United States and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Arpansa) acknowledge the use of UV-protective detergent as one of the ways for additional sun safety.  

This detergent not only launders clothes, but also “has an invisible dye that coats your fabric ?(to) increase the UPF,” explains Ng.  

This coating accumulates with every wash until it reaches a maximum of UPF 15 (attainable after six washes). Ng’s white cotton shirt will have a UPF rating of 21 after six washes, but no more than that, no matter how many more times he washes it. 

This “dye”, a UVR absorber, is an additive developed by Swiss-based innovator and manufacturing company Ciba Specialty Chemicals. According to Ciba, this ingredient is tailor-made to absorb UVA as well as UVB radiation, two different wavelengths within the UV spectrum. 

“It is very difficult for people to comprehend how a detergent can be a form of protection,” says Ng, who has had people scoff at the idea and call it “absurd”. (Unza has a UV-protective detergent, MaxKleen, listed amongst its products.  

However, consumers can assure themselves that a UV-protection claim is genuine if it has been tested and verified by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency. 

Arpansa is an Australian Federal Government agency that has developed a UPF certification scheme to guide purchasers of sun protective clothing. According to Ng, this certification also extends to products that claim any form of UPF rating, such as dyes and washing powders. 

He says that the ingredient in the detergent will not weaken the bonds of the fabric or stain it. The effect is not compromised by the use of bleach or hot water during washing. 

“(The protective effect) is still there even if you do not continue washing with the detergent, but it will eventually wear off,” he cautions. “Fabric is one form of protection, but it is by no means the only form of protection. One also has to be wise,” Ng advises. 

Sun protection isn’t something you do as an afterthought. It covers a range of measures to be practised regularly and wisely. Carry an umbrella, but not a plastic see-through one. Put on sunscreen, but remember to re-apply it after it has worn off. Wash your clothes with UV-protective detergent, but wear more than a spaghetti-strap top and shorts for proper protection. 

By all means, enjoy the sunlight and fresh air, but don’t forget to Slip (on a shirt), Slop (on some sunscreen) and Slap (on a hat)!  


Related Stories:Sinister side of the sunWhat makes a sun-protective garment? 

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