The Search for Youth: A Boomer Phenomenon?

Looking younger has become an increasing obsession. Many Baby Boomers, in particular, seek to continue and extend their active lifestyles and preserve their youthful looks. As always, the quest for the fountain of youth is attainable, in part, through today's evolving fashions offerings. Among the most exciting of recent fashion trends is the resurgence of the hat as the ultimate accessory. The right hat can visually subtract years from the age of the wearer and reflect a sense of youthful style. More importantly, hats can serve a functional purpose that no other fashion accessory can match ? certain styles and brands can help preserve smooth, unlined skin, free from the unsightly and unhealthy effects of sun damage.

The need for sun-protective headwear is well-established. It is estimated that 90% of all "aging" of the skin ? wrinkles, discoloration, and sagging ? is attributable to sunlight, rather than to the passage of time. Women are flocking to cosmetic surgeons in droves to counteract the unpleasant side-effects of their sun-drenched childhoods and teenage years spent baking in the sun with baby oil. Women spend billions of dollars each year on the creams they hope will repair and allay the visible damage to their skin, which they associate so closely with their own beauty. Skin cancer has reached epidemic proportions and is now more prevalent than all other types of cancer combined. The Mayo Clinic Medical Essay reports that almost half of all Americans who reach age 65 will develop skin cancer of one form or another. After removal of cancerous skin cells, reconstructive plastic surgery is often necessary.

Although publicity about the harmful effect of sun exposure has increased awareness of the need to protect skin, most women have a false sense of security arising from two myths. First, many women believe that sunscreen alone is effective at staving off skin damage. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although sunscreens are an essential part of sun protection, they are not effective alone. Sunscreens rub off and sweat off. They are not applied uniformly and are not permanent. A sunscreen is only effective after it binds to the skin cells, which can take up to 20 minutes ? more than enough time for sun damage to begin. Even when sunblocks and sunscreens are active, the protection lasts only from 20 to 80 minutes, which is not nearly long enough for the healthy and active lifestyles women lead today. Finally, sunscreen blocks only some, not all, of the sun's damaging UV rays. By itself, sunscreen does not provide effective sun protection.

The second myth that lulls many women into a false sense of security about sun damage is the belief that any hat will do the job. That straw beach hat you've been using for your trips to the beach must provide good sun protection, right? Wrong. All hats are not created equal in the battle against sun damage. Most ordinary hats are made of straw, cotton or other common fabrics through which the sun's rays are able to penetrate with ease. Hats made from these fabrics typically provide only SPF 2 protection. In other words, they allow up to 50% of harmful UVB ("burning") rays and an even higher percentage of UVA ("aging") rays to penetrate the fabric and damage the skin. If the fabric is damp or wet, as is often the case after workouts or near the water, as much as 80% of the harmful UVB radiation may penetrate. For this reason, even hats that are marketed as "sun protective" may be woefully inadequate. Many hats are labeled "sun protective" merely because they have a 4"-wide brim that covers more of your face. A wide brim, however, is ineffective if the sun's damaging rays can blast right through it.

But don't despair. Thanks to technological breakthroughs spearheaded by the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA) and certain textile producers, ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) fabrics have been developed that can turn an otherwise ordinary hat into a safe haven from the sun's damaging rays, preserving the skin and preventing the visible signs of aging.

UPF-fabric-lined sun protective brands protect the head and face from sun damage in several ways that regular hats do not. First, protective hats are lined in high-performance sun protective fabric, to ensure that UVA and UVB rays cannot penetrate the hat and damaging the underlying skin. Second, the hats are designed for maximum facial and head coverage so that less skin is exposed to direct sunlight. This is achieved through such features as downward-sloping, extended brims and detachable, protective face shields.

Finally, savvy designers and manufacturers realize that women will not wear unattractive accessories no matter what the health benefit, so they are designing hats that appeal to the wide-ranging fashion needs and youthful tastes of today's health-conscious women. You don't have to choose between the hat you like and the hat that will protect you. Thanks to the wide offering of hats from today's UPF hat manufacturers, you can obtain effective sun protection in the hat style of your choice. The hat will look great on you today, and your skin will look great for years to come.

Kathleen Burke designed her first sun protective hat in an effort to integrate health and well-being with a sense of fashion. She needed such a product to better shield her own fair skin from the damage of ultraviolet light when she was enjoying outdoor activities. Burke built SunStuff, an award-winning company that has worked with a diverse clientele ? from cosmetic surgeons and dermatologists interested in healthy clients, to spas, golfers, gardeners, athletes, seniors, infants, and members of the cosmetics industry who are interested in her newest trend.

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