Sun Protection in the Garden

February 5, 2024

We love the garden and spend hours in it, so sun protection in the garden is a big deal for us.

sun protection hats & glasses
Sun Protection in the Garden

Skin Cancer

We might as well say it. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the world.

  • One of every five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70.
  • More than two million people in the US will die from it every hour.

These statistics come from the Skin Cancer Foundation

Avoiding Sun Damage

1. Protect Our Eyes in the Garden

We all love to be in the garden. We spend hours there every week either planting, weeding, feeding, and trimming. As in any outdoor activity, the sun can do a lot of damage to your eyes.

The Problem:

Here is the list of things that can go wrong if your eyes are not protected.

  • Cataracts: This is the clouding of the normally clear lens of the eye. 20% of Cataracts are directly caused by sun damage.
  • Macular Degeneration: This is damage to the retina and is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S.
  • Pterygium: a very common growth that starts on the clear tissue of the eye and can spread to the cornea.
  • Glare, we think of as a discomfort; you can’t see to work and it’s no fun. However, it also impairs depth perception, distorts the view as well as color and can cause temporary blindness. Your gardener wants to come in from the garden tired and happy, not tired with a headache.

Just wearing sunglasses does not do the job. I have learned, from expensive experience, that what we need are Sunglasses We Won’t Take off in the Garden

The Solution

Sunglasses: A good sun-resistant hat will help but for eyes, the glasses are most important.


  • Select glasses capable of blocking 99-100% of UVA and UVB rays.
  • Glare is best solved by polarized lenses. Polarized lenses have a special filter that blocks the intense reflected light that causes glare and discomfort.
  • Polarization also improves contrast and visual clarity; it reduces eye strain and allows for the best perception of color. Remember, your favorite gardener will be using hand and perhaps power tools!

Price? If all other features are equal, polarization adds about 1/3 to the price.

Color: green and gray should not distort any color, brown lenses may distort colors a bit. Green tints are advised for everyday use, they are considered best for normal bright conditions. Blue is often recommended for snow and yellow for fog or haze.  We always prefer green, which seems most natural.  It’s a personal choice.

Weight: This point is important: the sunglasses must be lightweight and forgettable! Otherwise, your gardener will take them off, lose them or worse hear that nasty underfoot crunch! Glass is the most accurate material for vision, but the newer lens materials are very crisp and are about 1/3 the weight of glass. (There are newer, lighter glass materials.)

How we solved the problem in our garden:

Sunglasses come in a wide range of prices and with different features. The important issues are blocking UV rays, eliminating glare, and improving comfort. No matter how good the glasses might be if you feel you need to take them off in the garden, repeatedly, they are no good to you or your favorite gardener.

For my birthday, we went to a very good sunglass store in the waterfront community we live in. I wanted a pair of well-known designer sunglasses I thought would be great.

As we shopped, the owner introduced us to the salesman from Maui Jim. No slouch at his job, he said “just take your beautiful glasses outdoors and look around. Now do the same with my polarized glasses.”

The crispness of vision was my answer followed by the remarkably lightweight nature of the glasses. (They were a little less expensive than my original choice,)

For safety, clear vision, and lightweight “forget ability” we like the rimless, non-glass, materials. (These will allow for prescriptions to be added. For prescription glasses you will go to your local specialist.)

Now, we both wear them.

Care of sunglasses: manufacturers recommend these steps.

  1. Prevent scratching, keep them in their hard case along with the microfiber wiping cloth.
  2. Keep them clean. Use the microfiber cloth to clean with. If very dirty, manufacturers recommend rinsing with water, using mild liquid soap if needed, rinse well, dry and wipe with a soft cloth, the microfiber is best.
  3. Don’t wear them on your head. We all do this, but this will stretch them and loosen the screws.
  4. Avoid excessive heat. In our climate, that means not leaving them in the car.
  5. At the beach? When not on you, keep them in the case in the beach bag.

2. Sun Protective Clothing for the Garden

We can feel as much sun in the garden as at other sports or at the beach. Sometimes we overlook that fact. Currently, available sun protective clothing is a big help in preventing skin damage.

Who is most affected by potential sun damage?

  • People with fair skin
  • Children
  • People at high elevations
  • People taking medication-a wide range of drugs are labeled for caution about the sun. Check your labels.

The best clothing will come labeled to show its UPF (Universal Protective Factor) it’s like SPF but for clothing. It will be labeled as follows: level 15 is ok, 30 is better and 50 is the upper level of what is available and is considered superior. This clothing should be able to meet its protection level for 2 years of washing and wearing.

What factors make the clothing protective?

  1. The material and how it is constructed-a tight weave is best.
  2.  Sun protective fabric treatments
  3. Color dyes can add protection
  4. Moisture content, wet fabrics allow more UV light.
  5. The best fabric for protection against UVA and UVB is 100% polyester. However small studies suggest it is not protective against visible sun rays.  Sun lotions are helpful in that case. (I read that Merino Wool is the second-best fabric for sun protection. Not much help in Florida!)
  6. Darker colors, a looser fit, and a silky finish are also benefits.

An economical alternative is a colorless dye made by the Rit company. It goes with clothing, in a hot wash and is helpful for about 20 washings and is the equivalent of about UPF 30.

3. Sun Hats for the Garden

4 ways to judge a sun hat

  • Protection-the hat should offer a firm weave, a wide brim and scalp coverage, Look for a UPF 50 rating. Scalp protection is important. Visors are not helpful. If skin cancer is bad, scalp cancer is worse-it is harder to treat!
  • Comfort-an inner band is useful and absorbs sweat, adjustability helps improve the fit, and a wind lanyard keeps it on your head. We garden near our pond; the wind can lift the hat right off and take it for a ride.
  • Breathability- look for mesh inserts or vents to help with this.
  • Durability-for hats used in travel this tends to mean, can I crush it? In the garden this is less important. Can I wash it or rinse it off, Is a good question?
  • I found this information by trial and error, from my dermatologist and by using sites written by people who test various brands primarily for adventure sports. The final point is this. Use this information as a guide.

If your gardener does not wear the hat it’s no good. Some of the fabric hats are very good, I wear one in the kayak but in the garden, I like the straw-like woven materials, and I keep them on.

A Sun Hat We Like

The Tula Hat

This hat is hand-made of tightly sewn hand-made palm frond material. It is rated UPF 50+ by the California Polytechnic Research and Testing Laboratory. They come in a good variety of styles and shapes for men and women.

We owe our hats to a dealer at a very attractive spring garden festival. These are fair trade products handmade by the residents of a single Mexican village. We bought them because we liked the hats and we liked the story. We are glad we did.

Two of our hats are perhaps 10 years old. I keep one for general wear and it looks new, another looks like it has been in the garden. My husband wears his in the garden, gets it wet in the Florida heat, washes it in the swimming pool, and wears it the next day. That hat looks a little raffish but still provides solid sun protection.

Everybody has a favorite, this one is ours. We bought from a small traveling dealer, you can now find them on Amazon.


Life in the garden should be fun and healthy. Sun damage is too serious a problem to take lightly. Your gardener will thank you for these gifts.

If you would like more information

This piece by Skin has more detail about sun protective clothing and its features.

I have included some information about sun protection in this post about tools you will need if you want to love gardening.