Best Sun Protection for Sun Loving Gardeners

Reader Contribution by Gretchen Anderson
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At this time of year, I’m in the garden the most. The veggies are coming on and I’m in deep harvest mode. It’s still hot and very sunny in Idaho. As a result, I have to protect myself from the sun, that’s because I’m “experienced” in the sun damage department. Yep, I’ve had all three types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell and now, melanoma. All three cancers have developed within the last seven years. Fortunately, I caught all three VERY early. They are the result of too much time in the sun as a kid.

Now, I know better.

From my perspective, taking in some natural Vitamin D from the sun is one of my simple pleasures. So, what’s this gardener to do? The Skin Cancer Foundation reports the incidence of melanoma increased by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men from 1970 to 2009. Those are astounding numbers–and I’m part of them. Maybe, you are too. Don’t let the late summer sun fool you–it’s still dangerous in large doses.

Covering up, while outside, is the best way to avoid excessive sun exposure. For confirmation of this, look to the hearty migrant workers in area fields. They dress in long sleeves, long pants and are always wearing a hat. With this in mind, I decided to explore what is new and popular in the sun protection arena. As I found out, there is more than I thought. Gardeners (along with kayakers, hikers, boaters, skiers and many more) want high tech sun protection. It means covering up with materials that breathe and have special fabrication. Here is a review of some of the fabulous products I discovered–from head to toe. While I review items for women, many of these are not gender specific or the manufacturer makes a “dude” version of it!

I’ve also added links at the bottom for finding these items. Of course I’m the thrifty gardener (aren’t we all?), so I tried to find the best deals for you. However, feel free to surf the net for that “killer deal” that I couldn’t find.


This past season, my bright red, Outdoor Research Oasis Sombrero doubled as protection from the sun while coaching softball (we are the “Red Flames”) and I used it in early spring while prepping the garden. It has a UPF of 30, a 4.5″ brim and I like it because I was able to order a women’s large–not just a “one size fits most.” It also has an elastic draw cord for a custom fit. But as the days grew longer and hotter, I needed something a little lighter–but with the same amount of protection.

Coolibar has a fabulous reversible, sizable, bucket hat with a 3″ brim. The UPF is rated at 50+. I’ve used this hat while working in the yard and when our family is out on the lake, boating. I mention boating, because the bucket hat has an elastic draw cord that I can pull snugly around my head and it won’t blow off. It has great breathable fabric and better yet, you can throw it in a suitcase and it comes out looking great every time. I just checked the website and the hats are on sale right now.

My sister, Jody, is a huge fan of the Solumbra Sun Hat offered by Sun Precautions. The brim is 5″ (wider than most) and has an adjustable interior headband. She says it has nice breathability and best yet, when she takes it off, there’s no “hat hair” … bonus! This is also a hat that can be purchased in your specific size.

I not only like a hat you can toss in a suitcase–but also one that you can toss in the washing machine. UV Skinz makes a great Rolled Brim Hat. Aside from being washable, it is also sizable and crushable. It has a 4.5″ brim. It is stylish with a bit of cutesy thrown in. When I’m in the garden, my peaches are jealous! Seriously, this hat works and keeps the sun off my face, neck and a good part of my upper back.


My Coolibar Sunblock Jacket has saved my bacon! Better yet, it has saved me from becoming bacon–while on our boat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfect for the garden. I really like the breathable, moisture-wicking 3D dri SUNTECT® fabric, pockets for my garden “picks” and a little arm pocket for my MP3 player. This all serves me well when I’m working in the soil. But, what is better is the hood that protects my neck and ears during a long day on the water. I never get over-heated in this jacket. It has a UPF of 50+.

Coolibar also makes a terrific short sleeve Water Jacket that is light weight and very breathable. This is my favorite article of protection. I’ll toss it in my backpack when I travel to various community gardens. It keeps its shape and looks great. I’ll add some sun sleeves if I need added protection.

A Solumbra Big Shirt by Sun Precautions is a terrific cover up–whether I’m harvesting my tomatoes or shading my tomatoes while on the beach! I love this shirt. It’s lightweight, roomy (don’t “size up” if anything, go with one size smaller) and breathable. It blocks UVB and UVA rays and has an SPF of 100+. My shirt is made of a patented fabric with a unique combination of fibers, weaving techniques and dying methods. The fabric doesn’t rely on a UV treatment to achieve its sun protection, so the SPF of 100+ won’t wash out or come off–even after 500 or more laundering cycles! 

In the summer I tend to wear a lot of tank tops and my UV Skinz layer over them so well. If I have to cover up I put on the “Jen” ¾ Sleeve V-Neck and a matching Long Sleeve, full zip jacket called the “Cheryl.” They come in great colors and the “Jen” is so comfortable, I’ve been known to sleep in it. They work in the garden and because they are chlorine resistant, they work in and out of the water, like a swim shirt. If you are between sizes, order up–they seem to run a bit snug.


All of the companies I list have terrific trousers that have a UPF of at least 50+. Currently I’m a fan of wearing my old, tightly woven cotton Chinos in the garden. They wash up great and I’ve never been sunburned while wearing them.


Here is what surprised me: sun sleeves! I didn’t think I would like them or use them as much as I have. Why not just wear a long sleeve shirt? Well, summertime is short-sleeve weather time. Sun sleeves give me the ability to make any wardrobe choice “long sleeved” with a UPF of 50+. I have some a favorite pair of sun sleeves from Iconic they are the ultra light del Sol unisex SunSleeves. They fit wonderfully and I can wear them all day if necessary.

I have an additional pair from Sunny Sleevez that is white with red flames on them. They are perfect for the garden. But I especially like them for coaching softball! One of my son’s buddies tried them on and he liked them so much, I was afraid I wouldn’t get them back. Nick, did eventually, and somewhat reluctantly, return them!

Iconic also offers all sorts of interesting sun protective clothing like LegCoolers and Neck Gaiters.

I still apply sunscreen daily. I have recently discovered a 100-percent natural product called MelanSol. What I like most about it is its usability and that I can pronounce all the names in the ingredient list. I use the broad spectrum SPF 20 MelanSol Sunscreen daily and I’ll step it up with the SPF 30 for days when I’m outside for extended periods. (In the case of an accidental sunburn, MelenSol has a sunburn relief gel as well.) Why don’t I go higher than 30? My dermatologist has always told me that, “If I buy anything higher than 30 SPF I’m paying for ‘marketing.'” I like that MelanSol goes on easily without that thick, nasty film that many sun screens can have. MelanSol is another layer of protection.

If I do sunburn, which I did while kayaking this summer, I break out the Unburn Sunburn Relief. I was wearing my Big Shirt, but forgot to button it to the top. It was a very weird sunburn–kind of a zigzag from my chest up to my neck. Though I have an Aloe Vera plant from which I could get natural gel–I prefer Unburn. When you apply it, it works by drawing the heat out of the burn. Unburn is formulated with 2.5% Lidocaine, for pain relief and Vitamin E and Aloe to soothe the skin and prevent peeling. Unburn is available at or at Wal-Mart.

I have friends who avoid sunburn by getting out in their gardens before their growing space is in the sun. That works too. But it limits your time frame. And, unless you are inclined to garden in the dark, these are the items I have found to help us all enjoy the great outdoors–without risking another skin cancer diagnosis.

Outdoor Research Oasis Sombrero Sun Hat
Coolibar Reversible Bucket Hat
Sun Precautions Sun Hat
UV Skinz Rolled Brim Hat (use code UVSMEN20 for a 20% discount)

Coolibar Sunblock Jacket
Coolibar Water Jacket
Solumbra Big Shirt by Sun Precautions
UV Skinz “Jen” V-neck (use code UVSMEN20 for a 20% discount)
UV Skinz “Cheryl” jacket (use code UVSMEN20 for a 20% discount)

Iconic del Sol SunSleeves
Sunny Sleevez
UnBurn Sunburn Relief