Hats | Best Sun Hats for UV Protection
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Do all hats offer sun protection?
To get sun protection from a hat, it has to cover your head and provide shade for the face and scalp. Shading the face alone with a visor, for example, will not provide UV protection to the scalp, ears, or neck. A visor may help you cool down by blocking some infrared exposure, however, this may give a false sense of security from UV.
Doesn’t my hair offer some sun protection?
As I preach about sun safety day in and day out, the one area that clearly needs some attention is the scalp. It seems so obvious to just wear a hat since this is probably the quickest most effective way to protect the scalp from excess UV exposure. Or, many think that their hair will do the trick to protect their scalp.
The SPF of hair clearly varies widely based on the density and coarseness of hair. The one factor that gets overlooked is the hair part- I find many precancerous spots and skin cancers right along the hair part and hair whorl. This means that these areas are getting more sun than we realize every single day.
Even though it would be nice to be able to apply sunscreen to the scalp, the hair truly gets in the way. It’s worth a try to find a sunscreen that could at the very least be applied to the hair part or hair whorl. The challenge is finding one that doesn’t leave a residue on the hair and reapplying.
How should I choose a hat for sun protection?
The fact of the matter is that there are some key elements to look for in a hat to verify UV protection.
- UPF: Although not all companies go through the trouble of testing their products for UV protection, if one of your hat goals is sun protection, it is worth looking for brands that test for UPF. UPF measures the UVA and UVB blockage by textiles. Ideally seeking a UPF of 30 or higher (similar to the number we seek with SPF) will give you some assurance that the textile that makes up the hat is physically capable of blocking UV effectively.
- Brim: Everyone loves baseball hats! I do too and understand why. The challenge when it comes to UV protection from a baseball hat is that the brim is only in the front. This means that the upper face and central mid-face around the nose may have good UV protection, but not elsewhere. Classically I see precancerous spots and sun damage accumulate along with the temples and sides of the cheeks, tops of the ears, and neck. Ideally, a brim that is at least 3 inches wide and is circumferential around the entire head will provide better more uniform UV protection. Bucket hats, fedoras, etc fall in this category.
- Top of the head coverage. I have noted that even some visors will claim UPF 50 based on the textiles that comprise the hat. This does not take into account the fact that the top of the head remains exposed. This is similar to the concept of making bikinis out of UPF fabrics- sure the areas covered have UV protection but is that enough?
- Be mindful of hats with cutouts, openings, or gaps that will allow UV to enter.
Is it best to stick to options that have a UPF rating?
Finding hats with UPF ratings will certainly offer more confidence in the UV protection offered by the materials the hat is made from. However, this is not simple to find. I find it is fairly uncommon to find hats with UPF ratings. When UPF ratings are not available, at the very least focus on styles, textiles, and construction to assess the hat’s potential effectiveness to offer UV protection.
If UPF ratings are not available, are there other ways to feel confident in the level of sun protection a hat offers?
If a hat does not offer a UPF rating, look at it closely.
- Does have a wide brim? Ideally, at least 3 inches?
- Does it have cutouts?
- Is it tightly woven? Can you see right through it?
- Is it made of one layer or two layers of textile?
Take a look at the textile and see if it is tightly woven to allow for less UV to penetrate. It may even be worth considering a hat with a lining as the two layers of fabric will likely provide increased UV protection.
Think about the angle of UV exposure. At the beach, the sun is right above you. Avoid hats with short brims in the back as you will likely get less shade over the back of your neck and upper back leaving it exposed and at a higher risk for sunburn.
Why can’t I just use a baseball hat for UV protection?
Take a look at these images...
The visor of a baseball hat does shield the eyes and forehead. However, take a look at the UV exposure for the rest of the face and neck. The visor just barely shades the nose. The cheeks, lips, ears, chin, neck - all exposed. I routinely find clear evidence of the impact of sun damage to these areas and can almost trace where the hat covered during routine skin cancer screenings.
Are there hat designs that are better for UV protection?
From a design perspective I tend to recommend the following styles that avoid angles that increase the risk for UV exposure:
- Floppy hat
- Cloche hat (If the brim extends longer)
- Fedora hat
- Bucket hat
- Boater hat
Trilby hats and Panama hats are cute but have a short posterior brim that angles up. This reduces UV protection offered by the brim.
Why don’t more people just choose hats?
Let's face it - the real problem with hats is ‘hat head’. Anything that rests on your hair will always run the risk of impacting your hair style. Here are some helpful tips to reduce the chances of hat head:
- Make sure your hair is dry before wearing a hat. If it’s wet then it will likely conform to the shape of the hat as it dries.
- Choose adjustable hats and try to avoid wearing them too tight. Your hat shouldn’t feel like it’s squeezing.
- For longer hair, it can help to keep the hair tied in a loose bun. This can loosen the fit of the hat as it accommodates the bun and less likely to mess up your style.
- To avoid static affecting your hair style, consider using leave in conditioners or hair oils to add some weight to your hair by coating the hair strands and minimizing the effects of static. Keeping dryer sheets close by can also help.
It can be hard to avoid hat head but it’s worth a try- hats are often one of the most effective means of protecting your scalp from excess UV exposure.
Anything else that you think people should know about choosing a hat for sun protection?
Remember that hats only block UV exposure from the top down, not the bottom up. You still need to wear SPF-containing products on the face simply because UV can reflect off of sand, fresh snow, sidewalks and become magnified to increase UV exposure.