Sun-Protective Clothing

California Education Code

35183.5. (a) (1) Each schoolsite shall allow for outdoor use during the schoolday, articles of sun-protective clothing, including, but not limited to, hats. (2) Each schoolsite may set a policy related to the type of sun-protective clothing, including, but not limited to, hats, that pupils will be allowed to use outdoors pursuant to paragraph (1).  Specific clothing and hats determined by the school district or schoolsite to be gang-related or inappropriate apparel may be prohibited by the dress code policy.

In response to the Education Code amendment that gives California pupils the right to wear sun-protective clothing for outdoor activities, it is surely in the best interest of all members of the school community for schools to respond by updating their dress code to accommodate the new rule.

A sun-protective clothing policy should address two important goals:

  1. Encouraging students and personnel to cover up when outdoors
  2. Specifying the type of sun-protective clothing that is, or is not, allowed

Why can't everyone just use sunscreen?

It is very fortunate that sunscreen products are available for use as a second line of defense.  However, sunscreens sometimes fail, usually attributable to user error, which can result in unintentional sun damage.  By contrast, clothing is:

  • Cost effective
    A garment costs about the same as one or two bottles of sunscreen, but lasts much longer
  • On average, a more effective UV blocker
    Less prone to “missed spots” or “under application”
  • Dependable
    Doesn’t wash off, rub off, dissipate, penetrate, or expire
  • Not messy
  • Not an irritant
    Doesn’t cause eye irritation or acne
  • Quicker to apply
    Covers large areas in a hurry

The "Playshirt"

When the children in an elementary class prepare to go outside for physical activity, the time savings and tidiness that clothing affords will prove to be a great advantage over total reliance on sunscreen.

The parents of young children should be asked to provide a “playshirt,” with long sleeves and a collar, that can be kept in the child’s backpack or stashed at school.  To avoid the time and mess of applying sunscreen to the neck, shoulders, upper back, and arms, children can simply slip on their playshirt, right over whatever they are already wearing, before going outdoors.  (It would not need to be buttoned down the front when worn over a tee shirt.)   Children can remove the playshirt when they return indoors.   If the shirt is lightweight and well ventilated, it should not cause overheating.  However, during extremely warm weather, sunscreen could be used instead.

By wearing a hat and covering the arms and legs with clothing, sunscreen need only be applied to the lower face, neck, and backs of the hands.  What a great savings in both time and cost!


As outlined above, compared to sunscreen, long pants and skirts would reduce cost, time, and messiness in protecting the leg skin from UV damage.

Physical Education

Without a sun-protective clothing policy, a dispute might arise between teacher and student if a child should independently choose to wear long clothing, as opposed to the standard uniform, for a physical education class in California.

The California Ed. Code states:  “Each schoolsite may set a policy related to the type of sun-protective clothing, including, but not limited to, hats, that pupils will be allowed to use outdoors...”

To help in the prevention of skin cancer, and to prevent student-teacher misunderstanding, here are some steps secondary schools can take:

  • Review the current physical education uniform for its sun protection capacity
  • Re-define the P.E. uniform to incorporate items that cover more skin
  • Consider adding hats (such as legionnaire-style caps) to the uniform
  • Recommend that uniform items be made of fabric that has a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) of at least 15
  • Define allowed alternatives to the standard P.E. uniform for students who choose to cover more skin than the amount covered by the standard uniform
  • Communicate your clothing and hats policy to students, parents, and teachers
  • Develop strategies to actively encourage students to cover up and wear a hat for all outdoor activities including, but not limited to, physical education class



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