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Report | October 2016

Textile UV protection

Thick materials, darker colours and wearing several layers on top of each other significantly increase the protective effect of clothing.

About two and a half million people in Germany regularly work for eight hours or more in the sun. Their risk of developing skin cancer is twice as high as that of those employees who do not work outdoors. Only a very few of them wear special UV-protective clothing, as recommended by the trade unions and the German Social Accident Insurance Association (DGUV). However, the pressure on employers to require such clothing to be worn and/or make it available, may now increase considerably.

The Expert Medical Committee on “Occupational Illnesses” at the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS) has recommended that so-called white skin cancer should be recognised as an occupational illness. Even though it has not yet been officially included in the list of occupational illnesses, following the recommendation from the BMAS it can already be regarded “as an occupational illness” in the sense of section 9 paragraph 2 of the Social Security Code VII by accident insurance companies. In such cases, the cost of treatment is paid by the insurance companies and there is normally no additional payment required from those affected.

According to German Cancer Aid, about 70,000 people a year fall ill with white skin cancer, also known as squamous epithelial carcinoma. This is a malignant skin tumour affecting the upper layers of the skin (epithelium). Even more prevalent are actinic keratoses, scaly patches of skin which can, according to data from the European Skin Cancer Foundation (ESCF), develop into malignant squamous epithelial carcinomas in about 10 per cent of cases. Experts agree that textiles offering a high degree of UV protection provide the best protection for people who have wto be outdoors for long periods and regularly for their work. Cosmetic sun protection, on the other hand, is mainly suitable for spending limited periods of time in the sun.

However, the UV protection provided by textile materials varies greatly. As well as the colour, it is mainly the material which determines the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) that indicates the protection factor of the textiles in the same way as the sun protection factor (SPF) on sun creams.

Lightweight, brightly coloured clothing in cotton is comfortable to wear, but only has a UPF of approximately 2-10, when measured against the international UV Standard 801. Thick materials, darker colours and wearing several layers on top of each other significantly increase the protective effect of clothing. In order to achieve a balance between a high UV protection factor, wearing comfort and durability, especially for workwear, in recent years special fibres with built-in UV protection have been developed. They contain titanium dioxide, which reflects and/or absorbs harmful UV-radiation so that it does not reach the skin. At the same time, they are lightweight and very comfortable to wear. Furthermore, at the Hohenstein Institute in Bönnigheim for example, as part of a research project (AiF15749N), combinations of materials have been developed that improve functionality even more. The initial prototypes offer especially high UV protection (UPF 80) on exposed areas like the shoulders and are mechanically very hard wearing. The use of stretchy materials on the back and sleeves not only provides protection from the sun but also makes the garments comfortable to wear and take on and off. Special textile zones under the armpits and in the stomach area have been optimised to deal with sweat production, making the garments breathable and pleasant to wear.

There are various methods for measuring the UPF: the Australian/New Zealand standard (AS/NZS 4399:1996), testing under EN 13758-1 and AATCC 183, and the UV Standard 801. These test standards define different specifications for the materials being tested. The Australian/New Zealand standard (AS/NZS 4399:1996) and the tests under EN 13758-1 and AATCC 183 only require testing to be carried out on new textiles that are dry and unstretched.

The UV Standard 801 is considerably more practical: for clothing textiles, the UPF is measured on the stretched, wet textile, and after mechanical wear and tear caused by wearing and washing. It furthermore assumes the worst case scenario of the highest UV radiation level (sun spectrum in Melbourne, Australia at the height of the Australian summer). That is why, when it comes to preventing skin cancer by means of appropriate workwear, calculating the UPF according to the UV Standard 801 should always be the first choice.

Courtesy: Hohenstein Institute

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