Sun protection in Southeast Asia doesn't always have to involve gobs of sunscreen every few hours. Your clothes can give you an added level of UV protection, with more convenience and less mess than most sunscreens on the market. Save your skin with a wide-brimmed hat and UV-resistant clothes - and that's just a start! Use the list below as your checklist for sun protective / anti-sunburn clothes that you need to pack for your upcoming Southeast Asia trip.
For an overview of your luggage essentials in the region, read this article: What to Pack for your Trip to Southeast Asia.
Wide Brimmed Hat
A hat with a large brim can save your hide (literally) when exploring in the tropics. A hat can save your scalp from sunburn and protect the sensitive nape area. Get a vented hat (compare prices) that lets your covered parts breathe.
Hats are notoriously baggage-unfriendly, so if you're not planning to wear it through the airport gates, get a crushable hat (compare prices) that can be packed in with your things without permanent damage.
Sunglasses are absolutely important in the summer tropics - if your eyes are unprotected, UV radiation can damage your eyelids, cornea, and lens. Cataract formation has also been linked to high levels of UV exposure. (Read about UV eye safety.)
Most sunglasses offer some protection against UV rays. But if you're looking for the best protection, look for sunglasses labeled "UV400" - these glasses have lenses that are treated to provide up to 99 percent protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
Instead of slathering on sunscreen, how about just wearing a shirt with built-in UV protection? Not all clothes are opaque to UV rays - a white cotton shirt only has an SPF of 6.5 (read more about SPF). Some shirts are specially formulated to offer SPF of thirty and above, sacrificing some breathability for sunburn prevention.
UV-resistant clothes that are light enough for Southeast Asia's tropics include Ex Officio Dryflylite (pictured left, compare prices) and Royal Robbins Expedition, with women's (compare prices) and men's (compare prices) variants. Get a collared shirt to protect the back of your neck, an often overlooked body part that gets noticed only when sunburned.
Shorts seem de rigueur for visitors to Southeast Asia, but pants are a good idea in more ways than one. Not only are pants modest enough to permit entry into most places of worship (more on visiting Buddhist temples and mosque etiquette), they can also save your legs from sunburn.
Roomy pants ought to be tropics-friendly enough so you don't go the opposite direction right into heatstroke. These men's cargo pants (pictured left, compare prices) and women's everyday pants (compare prices) from Coolibar are tropics-friendly and come with a high SPF to boot.
As mentioned above, summer-weight clothing has an SPF of only 6.5 - you can still burn through your clothing if you're out in the sun long enough. You can increase the SPF levels of your existing clothing by steeping them in a UV-protectant treatment like Rit Sun Guard (pictured left, compare prices). Treat your clothes before you fly out, and you can save more sunscreen for the beach.
Wearing clothing on the beach may defy logic - after all, isn't some disrobement part and parcel of the beach experience? You need to weigh the logic of that statement versus the probability of sunburn in the short term and skin cancer down the road.
Sunscreen can go some way to prevent the sun's worst effects while on the beach. If you're allergic to sunscreen, or if you're looking for an added level of protection, wear long-sleeved rashguards (pictured left, compare prices) that don't look out of place both in the water and out.