It’s that time of the year again—hats have officially transitioned from a fashion statement to a weapon in the war against UV rays. But do they really offer much in the way of protection from the sun’s damaging effects?
A little bit—but definitely not enough for you to forgo using SPF on your face and any exposed areas of your body. “Wearing a hat provides instant shade, which increases your cumulative total sun protection factor by at least 10,” says Ava Shamban, M.D., a dermatologist in Beverly Hills. “Regardless of whether [or not] you wear a hat, you need to apply a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 because ultraviolet light is reflected off of surfaces.” Remember to stick to this rule: Apply about a shot glass worth of SPF to your entire body, and reapply every two hours.
Wide-brimmed hats that surround the head—covering the face, back of the neck, and sides of the neck and face—will offer the most protection. Baseball caps, on the other hand, will only cover your forehead and half of your face, leaving quite a bit of your face vulnerable to the sun. Hats made of tightly woven fabric generally provide more protection than canvas hats and straw hats, according to the American Cancer Society.
Shamban recommends looking for brands that carry hats with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number, like Coolibar. “In order to carry a number, it must be tested as this is regulated by the FDA,” says Shamban. The lowest UPF rating a piece of clothing can have is 15, while the highest is 50+.