Stockings do not protect against skin cancers

Yes, there is a reason more women develop cancer lesions on their calves than men do: It’s what they wear. British researchers examined several types and colors of nylon stockings and found that none provides significant protection against skin-damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation. In fact, the white stockings often worn by health care workers may provide the least protection of all.

The researchers inserted a diffuser and a quartz light guide into the hollow leg of a mannequin, then subjected the artificial limb to the glare from four UV lamps as it was covered with various stockings.

The light guide was hooked up to a spectro-radiometer, which measured UV radiation transmission. From that figure, the sun protection factor (SPF) of different stockings could be measured.

Definitely not a fashion statement

All the stockings failed miserably. But if you insist on wearing them anyway, go for the thickest black stockings you can find — they had the greatest SPF, at a feeble 1.8. Other dark colors followed close behind: bark, sable, mink, and navy.

As you might expect, the lightest colors — honey, ivory, and oyster — were the worst, with SPFs as low as 1.3. The researchers also found that women with heavy calves got less SPF protection because the nylon was stretched tighter across the skin, and that SPF protection in any size calf diminished toward its middle for the same reason.

If women really want to protect their legs from UV rays, their best bet is to wear pants, the researchers say. Trousers — jeans, for example — have SPFs of 50 or greater. In fact, the researchers say, the incidence of skin cancer on the lower leg dropped in the 1970s, perhaps because women were starting to wear pants more frequently


Sinclair SA, Diffey BL. Sun protection provided by ladies’ stockings. British Journal of Dermatology 136:239-241.