Wearing sun hats minimizes exposure to damaging sunrays and may reduce the risks of skin cancer. Hats are available for all ages, from infants to adults, and come in a variety of colors, patterns and styles. Nearly any kind of hat can provide you with some degree of sun protection.

Once you own a sun hat, of course, you must wear it often to achieve the health benefits. It’s especially important to develop a routine for younger children, as the early years of sun exposure lead to higher incidences of skin cancer later in life.

Benefits of Wearing Sun Hats

Although many of us understand the dangers of UV rays, not everyone takes measures to protect himself from the sun every time he goes outside. While wearing sunscreen is part of staying cool and preventing skin cancer, ultraviolet radiation (UVR) can penetrate many types of hats and other clothing.

In fact, the increase in melanoma cases shows that more people are spending time outdoors without the proper protection. However, with the continual decrease in the Earth’s ozone layer, which allows more intense UV breakthrough, adequately protecting yourself from the sun is more important than ever. In addition to cancer, overexposure to the sun can cause premature aging and unsightly blemishes. Other risks from overexposure include:

  • autoimmune system suppression
  • cataracts
  • macular degeneration.

Sun hats today often incorporate a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) or SPF (sun protection factor) rating. A factor of 50 provides the best coverage from solar rays.

Selecting the Perfect Sun Hat

Not all hats offer the same degree of sun protection. For example, those with looser weaves will not deflect UV rays very well. Instead, always select a hat, whether it is straw, cotton or another material, that is tightly woven. Hats that are lined are also helpful.

Darker colors on the exposed portion and the underside of the brim are typically better at absorbing the sun’s reflective rays. However, these are not always the coolest choices, as lighter-colored fabrics actually deflect heat, still allowing some UV rays to pass through the material. Standard styles include:

  • Bucket hats: These include the familiar fishing hats with a floppy brim and soft upper construction. Many incorporate fun colors and patterns for both kids and adults. When in shade, the brims can be turned up for greater visibility. Bucket hats can consist of a single layer or come with a lining.
  • Legionnaires hats: These feature protective flaps at the back and most wrap around to meet the sides of the hat brim (i.e. think of hats people would wear during desert travel in earlier times). Legionnaire hats are excellent for any outdoor work when the back of the neck is exposed. Some companies offer adaptable flaps that attach to regular caps. Legionnaire styles are also helpful for protecting ears.
  • Wide-brim hats: As their name implies, these have very broad brims that are useful in shading much of the face and neck. Broader brims are useful in protecting the nose and cheeks, both of which are areas that are highly susceptible to cancerous lesions. While many stylish varieties of wide-brim hats are popular with women, western styled hats tend to be more popular with men. Generally, a brim 3 inches or wider provides the best shading.

In addition, safari-style and “outback” hats are effective at protecting your face and neck from the sun. These can be in the form of hard hats or a felted material that come in a variety of styles and colors. As you are choosing between different styles of sun hats, consider the activity you will be doing:

  • Travel styles should be collapsible or crushable cottons. These won’t take up much room and can easily spring back into shape.
  • Ventilation is important if performing strenuous activities, especially in hot weather. Many hats include circular panels with mesh insets for better air flow.
  • Visibility for certain sports is another critical factor. Boating, fishing and most athletic activities require a great range of peripheral vision.
  • Washability is important if sun hats are worn regularly.

Hats to avoid include baseball caps, berets and visors, as each of these options doesn’t provide adequate sun protection.

Special Hats: Sun Protection for Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers have naturally sensitive skin that is highly susceptible to overexposure and burns. Floppy cotton woven hats are ideal, as they can compress when a child rests his or her head in a stroller. These should have brims that allow for comfortable visibility and must fit well without being too tight.Some children’s hats come with ties. However, never choose an infant hat that has a cordlock attachment. These are potential choking hazards. Also, experts recommend that ties should be secured behind the head rather than under the chin. Older children often resist wearing hats while playing. Finding a comfortable hat that’s age-appropriate will help. Make it a routine for kids, and it will eventually become automatic for them to don hats before leaving the house or classroom.

Stylish Sun Hats

While sun hats are all about protection, no one has to sacrifice a desire to look good. With so many styles available, there’s a feature and a design to complement every preference and budget.

Make them a fashion statement along with other protective gear, including sunglasses and clothing. You’ll stay cool and protected while looking great every time you step outside.