It’s always summer somewhere in the world and the growing demand for ultraviolet (UV) protection garments has created a market that can be exploited throughout the year. How can manufacturers ensure their products are safe and compliant with regional requirements?
Public awareness of the dangers of excessive exposure to the sun has resulted in some sectors of the textile industry developing UV protective clothing. Initially dominated by baby clothes and children’s swimwear, the market for UV protective clothing has now expanded to include functional and fashionable adult-wear. To access markets, however, manufacturers must be able to prove their products match their claims.
Why protect against UV
UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches the Earth from the Sun. With a wavelength of between 10 nm and 400 nm, shorter than visible light and longer than X-rays. UV radiation from the sun is responsible for 90% of all skin cancers in human beings.
To reduce the possibility of skin cancer, we are advised to reduce exposure between 10am and 4pm, when UV radiation is at its strongest, and to use adequate UV protection. This includes sunscreens, sunglasses and UV protective apparel.
UV protective clothing
UV protective clothing can offer the wearer considerable protection against the harmful effects of the sun, but consumers need to be careful as UV radiation will also degrade textiles. It can initiate a chemical reaction in the clothing’s polymers that will result in their breakdown, making them lose their physical and chemical properties.
The amount and type of damage caused by UV radiation depends on the nature of the fibers or filaments from which the textile is made. For example, with nylon, the penetration of UV radiation will result in a decrease in elasticity and tensile strength. Exposure will also lead to loss of color, strength, and resilience to both wet and dry conditions.
Testing UV protective clothing
In the European Union (EU), manufacturers and retailers test products against EN 13758-1 “Textiles. Solar UV protective properties. Method of test for apparel fabrics”. They set an Ultraviolet Protective Factor (UPF) of 40+ as the minimum performance standard and a maximum of 5% Ultraviolet A (UVA) transmission for claims of UV protection, as required by EN 13758-2 – Textiles – Solar UV protective properties. Classification and marking of apparel”. It is understood that this will fulfil the essential health and safety requirements needed for clothing to absorb and reflect most harmful rays.
To satisfy the requirements of EN 13758-2, they must also provide consumers with information on the limitations of the product, such as:
- Sun exposure causes skin damage
- Only covered areas are protected
- The protection offered by this item may be reduced with use or if stretched or wet
When making claims about UV protection, manufacturers are advised to also consider the effects of repeated laundering. Therefore, products should also be measured for UPF performance after multiple wash cycles (e.g. five washes). This will allow the manufacturer or retailer to quantify the reduction in performance, which can then be communicated to consumers via the information leaflet accompanying the product.
UV protective clothing as PPE
Stakeholders operating in the EU need to be aware that, since April 21, 2019, clothing making claims of protecting the wearer’s skin from the sun has been classed as personal protective equipment (PPE). Products such as protective hats, gloves, swimwear, etc. will therefore need to be CE Marked. Currently EN13758-1 is not a harmonized standard.
Under PPE Regulation (EU) 2016/425, published in March 2016, Annex II states:
“PPE designed to protect the skin against non-ionizing radiation must be capable of absorbing or reflecting the majority of the energy radiated in harmful wavelengths”
The regulation’s guidelines, section 16.6, also note, “skin protection against natural UV radiation – All garments, including partial or whole-body clothing, caps and helmets, gloves, and shoes, designed and manufactured to have specific UV-protective properties against natural UV radiation” are considered PPE Category I. Therefore, if your garment is “designed and manufactured to have specific UV-protective properties against natural UV radiation”, PPE regulations apply to it.
To label a product with the CE Mark, the producer must follow the procedures under the PPE regulations and create a Technical File containing all pertinent data, which should then be kept for a period of ten years.
Stakeholders also need to be aware that in the United Kingdom sun hats with a UPF claim will need to use national standard BS 8466. There is currently no comparable standard in the rest of the EU which in effect means BS 8466 may also be applied there.