While the longer days and milder nights of summer make for brilliant opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine, prolonged exposure to the sun can result in skin burns, premature aging, and even skin cancer. Wearing a good sun hat is a great way to reduce your exposure to harmful UV rays. But not all sun hats are the same. Behind every good sun hat is a science that combines the choice of materials, the design of the hat, and the level of UV protection it provides.
This post explores what creates an effective sun hat and how all these aspects come together to keep us safe in the sun.

The Importance of Materials

The first line of defense for any sun hat is the material that it is made from. Materials are imperative to determine how much protection the hat provides against UV rays. Natural materials such as cotton, linen or hemp are go-to fabrics for their ability to breathe and absorb UV rays. But even natural materials, if not reinforced, might not be sufficient to block out UV radiation.

To improve their effectiveness, manufacturers now often use UV inhibitors in the fabric or use tightly woven materials to block UV rays physically. Synthetic materials, such as polyester or nylon, are especially good because these fibers can be engineered to have sun-protective properties. Additionally, some sun hats use special coatings or dyes to improve their UV-protective properties.

Design Matters

The design of a sun hat is just as important as the material it’s made from. A well-designed sun hat not only shields the face from the sun but also helps protect the neck and ears—and sometimes the shoulders, too. The brim is the crucial part in this regard: the widest is best, so at a minimum, you want to shoot for three inches of shade and protection around your face.
Features such as a sloping and angled brim will protect the face and neck by blocking the sunlight from various angles, depending on the sun’s position. Some hats even come with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) rating, which indicates how much of the sun’s UV rays can be absorbed by the fabric. A hat with a UPF of 50 allows in only 1/50th of the sun’s rays to pass through it, providing significant protection against radiation.

UV Protection: The Ultimate Goal

Of course, the main function of a sun hat is to protect your skin from exposure to the harmful UV radiation that causes sunburn, premature aging and skin cancer. The ability of a sun hat to provide UV protection relies on a combination of its material, construction, and its design. The UPF rating, as discussed above, is an important indicator of sun safety for your hat. But wearing a sun hat should be part of an overall sun safety practice, including sunscreen, sunglasses and shade during peak sun hours.

Hats Off to Sun Safety: Concluding Thoughts

Sun hats contain a complex mix of material science, design innovation and health protection. By learning about the key elements of an effective sun hat, consumers can make informed choices to keep themselves and their families safe from the ever-present danger of UV radiation. For this reason alone, a sun hat is an essential part of your summer safety kit.
Next time you are shopping for summer hats, look beyond the style and the fashion and think science.