Clothes and Fabrics: Our First Line of Defense Against Skin Cancer

One could say that we would not have been alive on earth without the sun. The gentle warmth and varied seasons it brings are just enough for us to survive. However, too much of one thing is always harmful. This is the case for the sun’s rays resulting in skin cancer. We turn to fabrics to protect ourselves from too much of the sun’s rays. Our clothes are not just for fashion. They can protect us from the risk of skin cancer. However, advancements in technology brought about different kinds of fabrics. This article will clarify the confusion regarding the clothes and fabrics we wear daily. 


Ultraviolet Light and Skin Cancer

We don’t usually hear much about skin cancer compared to other cancers. However, it is currently one of the fastest-growing epidemics in the United States. Cases of skin cancer have tripled since the 1970s. In addition, research estimates 3.5 million new cases each year. 

Ultraviolet rays from the sun are the major risk factors for this disease. There are three types of ultraviolet rays. These are the UVA, UVB, and the UVC. The UVC does not affect us because the earth’s ozone layer stops it from reaching Earth. 

We should be more concerned with UVA and UVB. While it does not cause direct damage to our cells, UVA rays can create free radicals in our bodies. This can lead to DNA damage in our cells indirectly. On the other hand, UVB rays can directly damage our DNA. It does so by inducing the formation of harmful photoproducts such as pyrimidine (6-4). 

Damage to our cells’ DNA causes skin cancer. This is because the DNA in our cells is the blueprint for their replication. If this blueprint changes, it can lead to uncontrolled replication. This is the root of all cancers.


How Can The Way We Dress Reduce the Risk of Skin Cancer?

Avoiding peak sun hours is still the best way to reduce the risk of skin cancer. However, in times of need, our clothes will come in handy. Intuitively, the idea is not to let the sun’s rays touch your skin. Thus, the appropriate clothing would be wide-brimmed hats and full-length clothes. Accessories such as UV-protective sunglasses and umbrellas can also help.

Through recent years, we have developed technologies to combat UV rays. The measure for this is the Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). It provides a quantifiable measure of how much UV rays a textile allows to pass through. 

Basically, the number you see is the ratio by which they allow UV rays to pass through. For example, a fabric with a UPF rating of 20 will enable 1/20 of the UV rays to penetrate. This works by using special high-fiber density fabrics with very few small holes in their weaves. You should look for clothing with a UPF rating of 25 or above. A rating of 40 is the best you could go for.

If you do not know your clothes’ UPF rating, you may go by feel and color. Thickness and texture are the usual characteristics that can tell a fabric’s UPF. For example, synthetic fabrics such as polyester have good protection against UV rays. In terms of color, darker ones are preferable as they can absorb more UV light than lighter colors which means the UV rays are less likely to reach your skin. 


Fabric Against Skin Cancer

Weaving techniques are not the only way to improve UPF. Fabric for ultraviolet protection is currently one of the most researched fields. Textile producers are looking into the next generation of UV protection. These new technologies include UV absorbers, nanoparticles, antibacterials, and layer-by-layer self-assembly textiles. 


Enhancing Cotton Against Skin Cancer

Cotton is one of the most popular fibers used in the textile industry. In addition, it has excellent protection against UV rays. This makes it a favored material for testing enhanced ultraviolet protection and other properties on clothes.

In a 2017 review study on ultraviolet protection developments, researchers are enhancing cotton in different ways. They can incorporate ultraviolet ray absorbers into cotton. An example of this involves using compounds such as O-hydroxy benzophenones or 2-hydroxy benzophenones. These are special compounds that absorb ultraviolet rays better than untreated cotton.

Researchers may also use nanoparticles on cotton. It improves the durability of the cotton and can give other useful properties. These properties include hydrophobicity, anti-microbial, and ultraviolet protection. In particular, nanoparticles of zinc oxide are widely used for this technology.

Aside from antimicrobial properties, a 2021 experimental study also showed the anti-cancer properties of enhanced cotton. In this study, researchers incorporated zinc oxide nanoparticles with Acorus calamus into cotton fabric. Results showed that the fabric exhibited cytotoxic activities against skin cancer. They suggest that these activities must be due to zinc ions interacting with the skin’s free radicals.

Scientists have also incorporated cotton with layer-by-layer self-assembly. This process uses ultra-thin multilayered films through very small amounts of charge in electricity. Specifically, they use titanium dioxide nanoparticles, which can enhance cotton’s ultraviolet protection. 


Research on Other Fabrics

There are plenty of other fabrics in the industry. Another popular one is polyester. Polyester is a synthetic fiber composed of plastic. It can exhibit ultraviolet protection when incorporated with aluminum/titanium dioxide (Al/TiO2) composite films

Fabrics that contained these composite films saw a UPF rating of more than 30. The aluminum film has the inherent property of reflecting ultraviolet light. Its combination with titanium oxide results in a high-refractive and highly reflective material. 

Another textile that can exhibit protection against ultraviolet rays is PA66 fibers. This material refers to polyamide 66 glass fibers. It is a rather uncommon material used mainly for nylon. It can exhibit ultraviolet protection when treated with a mixture of calcium dichloride, ethanol, and water.

This ultraviolet protection occurs because of the increased surface roughness that the fabric gains when treated. This allows for a better scattering propensity of light. Thus, it can lower ultraviolet rays from penetrating the material. The UPF value of the untreated fabric was 25. It rose to more than 100 after treatment. 


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