Newsletter XXIV - Selecting Sun Hats

Wearing sun hats will almost always provide some protection against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation to prevent skin cancer. In Australia, a study at Queensland University compared farmers who wore a hat every day with those who did not (Won, Airey, and Fleming, 1996). The researchers found that without a hat, the nose is the part of the face that receives the highest exposure to UV. They then calculated that with the protection of a hat, the risk of basal cell carcinoma on the nose decreased by a factor of 16 (and by a factor of 5 for squamous cell carcinoma). For skin cancer prevention, wearing a sun hat can make a big difference!

An earlier study in England (Diffey and Cheeseman, 1992) measured the degree of UV protection provided by various styles of hats. The researchers concluded that while all hats provide good protection for the forehead, hats with little or no brim provide poor protection for other parts of the head and neck, and a hat with at least a three-inch brim is necessary to provide reasonable protection for the nose and cheeks. So whenever possible, choose a wide brim hat - one with a brim that?s three inches or larger.

The material used to make the hat is also important. It should block 97% UV or more (rated UPF 30 or higher). It's also helpful if the under brim is made from a dark material, which will absorb scattered UV that would otherwise reflect down on your face and eyes.

Finally, when wearing a hat, you should also use sunscreen on your face, particularly on your chin and cheeks. In situations where there are high levels of diffuse or scattered UV, even a hat with a five-inch brim won?t offer suitable protection for your chin.

Unfortunately, three types of hats that do not provide adequate sun protection are still commonly worn: straw hats, baseball caps, and ten-gallon hats. Straw hats allow UV to filter between the fibers; to provide effective sun protection, they must be tightly woven or lined with cloth. Baseball caps only protect the top of the head, the forehead, and the top of the nose. They do not shield the back of the neck, the tops of the ears, the sides of the cheeks, or the chin, so they should not be considered sun safe. Try a flap hat instead. And ten-gallon hats, even when made with sun-protective materials, are shaped and worn in such a way that coverage is minimal at best.

So when you're choosing a hat for sun protection, remember to consider the width of the brim, the color of the under brim, the shape of the hat, and the material. Think about the activity for which you'll be wearing the hat, then select a suitable style. If you choose carefully, you'll be providing the best possible UV protection for you and your family.