a woman melting on a tennis court while her clothes stay the same size

Sports and SPF Clothing: Too Darn Hot

On a hot sunny day, getting dressed for tennis is like getting dressed for a snowstorm: I cover almost every area except for my face.

When we were doing drills at our clinic the other day, I joked to the group, “Do you think I could be covered up anymore?” A friend answered, “We could get you a face mask.”


Preparing for outdoor activities can be a real pain when you’ve had skin cancer and remain susceptible to it. In my case, specifically, it is squamous cell cancer.

Sunscreen goes without saying. I wear SPF fingerless gloves, resembling biking gloves, with openings for my fingers, and an SPF long-sleeved shirt with collar.

So hot to cover up

My leggings and skirt, and my baseball hat, do not have sun protection in them. I got the leggings at a running store. They are lightweight. Still, one day recently, I got so hot and uncomfortable that I told my friends I had to get my leggings off.

Because my tennis skirt was over the leggings, and there was nowhere to change, they formed a circle around me while I took my bottoms off and put the skirt, alone, back on. It reminded me of the way little kids change at the beach, with a parent holding a blanket around them. The air felt good on my skin.

What to do

I asked my dermatologist if it was OK to ditch the leggings if I made sure to use sunscreen. She said that clothing is always better. The next day – the hot sunny one – I went back to the leggings. Plus, I forgot to mention, socks that covered my ankles because I actually got a big squamous cell cancer in the gap.

In my opinion, though SPF in clothing provides extra protection, it isn’t necessary. Still, I was curious to see what was available in SPF leggings. I looked at a pair on the Coolibar website, “Women's Summer Leggings UPF 50+.” I decided not to buy them. For me it’s OK to buy a shirt online but difficult to get leggings or pants without trying them on. The ad follows me around.

The brand options

I got my first SPF long-sleeved shirt from Coolibar. Many people like their clothing, and obviously it’s personal choice, but I sweated like crazy in that shirt. One that I got from LL Bean was no more breathable. My Coolibar bathing suit and coverup are more comfortable. Maybe that’s because I’m not running around in them.

Luckily I stumbled (in Internet fashion) on the Australian company Solbari. I figured that with their intense sun, the Australians should know.

According to their blog, “Solbari UPF 50+ sun protective clothing incorporates fabrics which have been tested and rated UPF 50+ by the Australian Government, but also includes design and function in mind to maximise the level of sun protection coverage and comfort."1

My white shirt with button-up collar, to protect your neck, has been my most comfortable so far. It has thumbholes at the end of the sleeves so you can cover your hands if you want.

I'm simply outside a lot

Though I play tennis and run in a baseball cap, I got a Solbari wide-brimmed SPF sun hat for dog walking. My dermatologist said you don’t need SPF in your hat, but I got one anyway because I had skin cancer on the top of my head. I see people playing tennis in wider brimmed hats that protect their face more. The other day I tried one in tennis, with a shorter brim, that that I got at Eastern Mountain Sports before going to Costa Rica last year. It didn’t feel as awkward as I expected.

Sometimes I get tired of all of it and want to feel the wind on my skin. The other day I got up bright and early, put on a tank top and a skort, and did a three-and-a-half-mile run around a shady lake near me. Even though I put on sunscreen and wore a hat, I wasn’t as protected as when I wear long sleeves and leggings. But I didn’t feel weighted down, either. So the benefit outweighed the risk.

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