Background/purpose: Spectrophotometry has become an accepted laboratory-based method for the determination of the ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of fabrics. However, the validity of the UPF determined in the laboratory has been a controversial issue with regard to its significance in the field. To compare UPF values obtained by spectrophotometry, determination of the minimal erythema dose (MED), and biological dosimetry, we conducted laboratory and field-based measurements on various fabric materials.
Methods: One cotton, two viscose, and two polyester fabrics were enrolled into the study. Spectrophotometric (SP) testing was performed in accordance with the European standard. In vivo "on skin" (IV) testing on human subjects was performed with and without fabric protection. For determination of MED, a solar-simulator was used. In another part of the study, biological dosimetry (BD) testing was employed for laboratory testing with solar-simulated radiation (laboratory BD testing) as well as field-based measurements with natural sunlight in stationary (stationary BD testing) and "real life" exposure situations (mobile subject BD testing). For field-based measurements one light-weight polyester fabric was selected.
Results: The differences of the mean UPF values obtained by the laboratory-based methods were significant (MANOVA; P = 0.05), except for fabric no. 2 (MANOVA; P = 0.097). In 4 of the 5 fabrics tested, UPF values obtained by IV testing were significantly lower than those obtained by SP testing (t-test; P = 0.05). In 3 fabrics, SP testing revealed significantly higher UPF values in comparison to laboratory BD testing (t-test; P = 0.05). The differences of UPF values obtained by the laboratory and field-based measurements employed for the light-weight polyester fabric were significant (ANOVA; P = 0.05). In comparison to SP testing (UPF 3.8), stationary BD testing resulted in significantly lower (UPF 3.5) and mobile subject BD testing in a significantly higher UPF of 4.4 (t-test; P = 0.05). The UPF obtained by mobile subject BD testing differed significantly from the UPF obtained by stationary BD testing (t-test; P = 0.05).
Conclusions: Comparison of the presented methods indicates that IV testing generally results in lower UPF values. By contrast BD testing in "real life" exposure situations reveals relatively high UPF values. Although an overestimation of the spectrophotometrically measured UPF has been observed in comparative laboratory testing, UPF values obtained by field-based measurements are in relatively good agreement, or even surpass UPF values obtained by spectrophotometry. It is, therefore, suggested that SP testing provides "safe" UPF values which may be also valid in extreme real exposure situations. Biological UV dosimetry is, however, a promising alternative method for UPF testing: the test is easily performed in realistic exposure situations, the test is relatively inexpensive, and the measurements are valid.