By Henry Howard
It’s no secret that the sun’s powerful rays are not only challenging to outdoor athletes during the summer but can also lead to skin cancer.
Outdoor athletes’ substantial exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation increases their risk of developing basal and squamous cell carcinoma, the two most common skin cancers, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Many marathoners also tend to have more small moles and large atypical moles, which are increased risk factors for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, the foundation reports.
The American Cancer Society estimates that many of the 2 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed annually could be eliminated by properly protecting one’s skin and avoiding indoor tanning.
Coolibar products shield athletes with UPF 50+ protection
I will be the first to admit that I am not perfect when it comes to applying sunscreen before I venture outside for a run, or other physical activity. When longer summer days combine with longer training runs, I often find myself running in extreme heat, humidity and sunshine. (I aim to stay away from the prime time for UV rays, between 10 AM and 4 PM, but that doesn’t always work out.)
I recently tried out some products from Coolibar, a company that specializes in producing sun protective clothing ranging from shorts to shirts to hats for casual wear and fitness activities. (Full disclosure: I won a Coolibar shirt in a contest on Twitter, and subsequently asked for a hat for the purpose of this review.)
Coolibar clothing has two key ingredients — zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — found in sunscreen that are embedded in the fabric and provide sun protection, blocking out 98 percent of UVA and UVB rays, the company says. Its fabrics are rated UPF 50+ — UPF is to clothing protection as SPF is to sunscreen protection.
Essentially, Coolibar clothing blocks 98 percent of the sun’s radiation from reaching skin.
Putting Coolibar gear to the test
I’ve worn a Coolibar shirt during several runs — a mix of shorter runs (4-6 miles) near sundown and longer ones (13-16 miles) in the 8-11 AM range. First off, the shirts fit great. They are comfortable and the fabric works as it should for a workout. The shirts don’t cling, even during a long sweaty run.
After the runs, even when I was out during the 10 AM-4 PM danger zone, the skin under the shirts did not show signs of redness, heat or anything else on the surface that would indicate the rays penetrated them. The shirts have received more thorough and scientific testing elsewhere, but it is reassuring to know that they seem to work during hot August conditions.
As for the hat, I wore it on a couple of training runs and once when I mowed the lawn. The hat is similar to a baseball cap, with an optional cover that snaps on and will cover the back of one’s head. I wore the cover while I mowed the lawn but took it off for my runs. For physical activity, I would think the best use of the detachable cover would be to wear it during an ultramarathon. Depending on the length of the race, it would be useful to have the cap protect the wearer from the sun’s rays, including those that would hit the back of the neck.
However, for my regular runs, I will keep that part detached. The hat itself is very lightweight and it doesn’t add pressure to one’s head like baseball camps tend to do. In fact, it was so loose, it actually didn’t feel quite right.
Bottom line: The shirts are comfortable, appear to block out the sun’s rays effectively and will accompany me on runs during peak sun times. For the hats, they are okay, depending on your planned usage and comfort. I would recommend trying on the hats before purchasing.
Six questions with Angela Lowe
To get more information about Coolibar and its products, I interviewed Angela Lowe. She is a longtime runner who works for Coolibar as a compliance and materials specialist.
First, tell me about your running. When did you start? How active are you now? What types of running events are you participating in now?
I began running as a kid; participating in track and field during the summer. Then, I advanced to cross-country once I reached middle school and high school. I’ve continued to run and train for events ever since. I’ve completed races ranging from 5K all the way up to a marathon. Most recently, I completed Grandma’s Marathon this spring in Duluth, Minn.
Runners like yourself, as well as triathlon competitors, bikers and others, often have to protect themselves from the sun when doing their thing. How do Coolibar products help protect athletes and others from the sun’s rays?
Coolibar products have helped eliminate the need to wear sunscreen on my upper body or worry about my sunscreen wearing off while training. I can rely on the clothing I’m wearing to fully protect me 100 percent of the time. Coolibar helps guarantee sun protection for the areas that are covered by Coolibar garments. No need to apply sunscreen, unless you have exposed areas of skin.
How are these products tested?
Coolibar performs UV tests on all fabrics, in all colors of every dye lot put into production. Essentially, we have UV tested every fabric ever put into production – both in-house UV testing and third-party UV testing.
All of our fabrics are sent to third-party labs for simulated use – they are exposed to 100 hours of simulated sunlight and 40 machine washings. This is the standard estimate used to declare the life of a garment.
The sun’s rays can be just as dangerous even when it’s not a brutally hot summer day. Are there products that people can use when they need something more than a T-shirt?
Angela: All of Coolibar’s products are UPF 50+. So, even if someone just wants to wear a T-shirt, we have T-shirt options for men’s, ladies, and kids. Although, for those that need extra protection we offer a wide variety of sun hats. A lot of people forget to protect their scalp while out in the sun. A hat is a great option.
Do shirts, shorts or other gear need to be washed, dried in a special way?
Coolibar recommends the customer pay close attention to the care instructions on the garment label. Majority of our clothing is easy care: machine washable and tumble dry.
The company’s products range from everyday wear to golf apparel to limited fitness gear. Are there plans to expand the offerings for fitness activities? If so, what can consumers expect?
We are planning to launch new fitness focused gear come spring of 2016 for both men and women. For women, we will be introducing fitness bottoms (finally)!
Headquarters: Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Number of years in business: 14
Products: Active wear, T-shirts, shorts swimsuits, hats and more for men, women and children.
Namesake: The company is named after a eucalyptus tree which provides shade in the Australian outback.
Notable: According to its website, Coolibar is the first company to receive the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation for sun protective clothing. Additionally, its apparel was the first to receive an endorsement by the Melanoma International Foundation.