Myth Buster – Does black clothing really absorb more light?

Warm weather fashion probably makes up a big part of your wardrobe, and it also makes up a big part of your sun protection when you’re exposed to UV rays.

Common advice says to avoid wearing black when you’re in the sun, because of its ability to absorb light and heat. So, does black really attract the sun? And should you avoid wearing it when you’re outdoors? Let’s have a look at whether you should keep or chuck your dark-coloured clothes.


Does black absorb light?

It’s actually true that black absorbs more sunlight! Wavelengths of light hit an object and are either reflected back to our eyes and are perceived as light in colour, or are absorbed by the object, making it dark. A white object reflects all wavelengths back to our eyes and basically absorbs no light. Deep black absorbs most of the light that hits is, which means it doesn’t reflect much back to us.

As the light hits those darker colours, it’s not only absorbed – it also gets converted into other types on energy. When the sun hits your black clothing, the energy produced is mostly heat. The heat then gets transferred into the environment around it, including your skin. As white doesn’t absorb as much light, it doesn’t product as much heat and is therefore cooler to wear.


Heat vs light

So black definitely absorbs more light, but the real question is – is that good or bad? In regards to staying comfortable in the sun, it means that people wearing darker colours are more likely to feel hot. However, that is not nearly as important as its role in sheltering the wearer from UV rays.

Because the light is absorbed, the UV rays are also absorbed by the fabric so they are much less likely to hit the skin. While the added heat might be more uncomfortable, it actually is a sign that the clothing is acting to protect your skin from the UV rays that are hitting it. You’ll still need a high SPF Carroten sunscreen underneath to enhance your protection, though.

Both dark and intense colours are the best choice to help with UV absorption. Colours like black and deep blue consistently outperform colours like yellow and white. While a white shirt may feel more comfortable to wear in hot weather because it is cooler, it won’t protect your skin in the same way.


Other Factors

The colour of a fabric is important, but it’s not the only factor. Here are some other important considerations you should keep in mind when selecting your outdoors fashion:

  • It’s common for people to prefer light, loosely woven natural materials to keep themselves cool, but these are the worst choice for protecting your skin. Densely woven fabric like denim and wool are much better choices. As a general rule, you can hold the fabric up to the light – if you can see light coming through, you won’t be protected from the sun.
  • In addition to how tightly woven the fabric is, you need to think about what it’s made of. Shiny synthetic fabrics are great at repelling the sun, or even shiny, lightweight silks. Natural fibres like cotton and wool can be a bit of a hit and miss – loosely woven, bleached cotton won’t offer you much protection. However, unbleached cotton contains natural lignins that work as UV absorbers. Modern fabrics can also be treated with chemical UV absorbers, improving their ability to protect your skin.
  • The more skin covered, the better. Long sleeves and pants or skirts are much better at protecting your skin than shorter items of clothing.
  • Type of wear. Tight clothes can stretch the fabric, which reduces its protection, so loose fabric is preferable. Clothing also offers significantly less protection when wet, so you’ll want to choose fast-drying fabrics or bring a change of clothes if it’s likely you’ll get wet. Older and vintage clothes can offer less protection.


Choose your colour.

Clothing is an extremely important factor in sun protection. Combined with other sun-safe practices like applying Carroten sunscreen liberally and often, it can help you stay safe and comfortable. However, not all clothing choices are equal.

Darker clothing can be a bit hotter to wear, but offers a higher level of protection against UV rays. So the common saying is partly right – black does attract the sun, but that’s exactly why you should choose it. Black clothing absorbs UV rays so your skin doesn’t have to.

Other factors can also influence how much protection you’ll get from your clothes, and some come with UPF ratings to make your decision even easier. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, and is the clothing equivalent of the SPF factor in sunscreen. You’ll still need both though, to stay safe.

So don’t avoid the darker clothes when you head out into the sun. Grab your dark, loose, tightly woven clothes, remember a hat and shades, and don’t forget to include Carroten as part of your daily sun protection to stay safe and looking good.