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Masks, Hats, and Sleeves to Protect Against Sunburn

Updated on May 6, 2019

When I was 19, I developed a skin depigmentation disorder called vitiligo, something I've written about on a few occasions over the years.

Now in my 40s, I have come to embrace the many life lessons that living with vitiligo has gifted me. As I'm guessing others can attest to, when one is markedly different in physical appearance, every moment spent around others is an opportunity to be more than just our outer shell. Every moment also offers the potential of meeting those who treat others for who they are, not just what they appear to be.

When our boys were younger, I was concerned that they would one day be embarrassed about their dad's skin condition. I will always remember my first opportunity to realize this concern - it happened when our older son was 8; here is what I wrote in my journal of that experience:

"Joshua and I were standing around before his tennis class and another boy came up and asked me why my skin is the way it is. I explained it to him like I always do with kids, giving the analogy of how some animals have different colours and how I'm the same, that it doesn't hurt, that I just look different. After he nodded and moved on, Joshua sidled up to me and, without a word, wrapped his little arm around my shoulder and gave me a good squeeze.

"I had long wondered how our boys would react to realizing that I am different in this way. Would they be embarrassed or ashamed of my appearance? Would they feel bad that others might make fun of them because of me?

"Well now I know - my son is all heart, and he will attract plenty of goodness with his caring spirit as he walks through this world. Feeling blessed."

I'm not sure if Joshua will ever fully know what that moment meant to me, how it made decades of intermittent sadness, worry, and self-pity disappear in an instant. His little arm and the warm side of his tiny trunk injected everlasting love and courage into my soul. He gave me the understanding that even though we may not always heal physically, even though we may walk through this life with visible scars, we can always heal within if we feel deeply loved.


About a month ago, I stumbled upon this face mask:


It's like a balaclava, though specifically designed to provide ventilation during hot summer days while protecting the face and neck from sunburn.

I found it here: Gillz Sun Mask

Other similar balaclavas that I tried in previous summers didn't have such well designed vents, which led to issues with excessive heat buildup and fogging of eyewear. The ventilation of this particular sun mask is so good that I can play tennis and soccer with our boys in 30 degree Celsius weather (86 F) without getting too uncomfortable. Of course I sweat profusely under this mask while playing outdoors with our boys on hot days, but I would sweat even without this mask while running around, and it remains comfortable enough for me to stay out for a few hours at a time.

For my arms and hands, I use UV sleeves with built-in hand covers:

Coolibar UPF 50+ Unisex UV Protection Sleeves

And for hats, I continue to find Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat to be the most functional of all the ones I have tested:

Sunday Afternoons Adventure Hat

When playing sports while wearing my Gillz face mask, I find that a cap is enough to protect my forehead - the one that I like best and am wearing in the photo above is called the Eclipse Cap, which comes with functional vents along its sides:

Sunday Afternoons Eclipse Cap

I'm immensely grateful for these tools that allow me to squeeze the marrow out of summer days with our boys. If you have loved ones who are apprehensive about spending time outdoors because they are predisposed to sunburn, please consider sharing these tools with them.

Wearing the face and neck mask does attract some extended looks from strangers, but for the most part, I find that people figure out pretty quickly what their utility is, and over time, as more people make use of this type of face mask, my guess is that wearing one won't be seen as being odd.

Heartfelt thanks to those who strive to see and treat others for who they are, not just what they appear to be.


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Dear Dr. Ben Kim,
Thank you for sharing today's mail with your readers. I am deeply touched by what you wrote. It brought tears to my eyes whilst reading this, thinking of how you must be suffering at times and how great it is to get one's child's understanding and support.
With kindest regards,

Thank you for the helpful article on the sun-protective clothing you use. I am still looking for workable solutions for myself, and I am always grateful for input from others. Thank you for taking time to contribute!

I have found some palm-free gloves (or sleeves) I like at if any of your readers are looking for such also. I use them for driving, light yard work such as watering plants, blowing walkways, and picking fruit (not sturdy enough for more demanding yard work). Others use them for golf or tennis.

I've also seen gloves and sleeves which do not cover the thumbs, but thumbs are not exempt from skin cancers, etc., so consumers may want to consider that.

Thank you for all you add to our lives, Dr. Kim. I appreciate you. Caron