When you head out for a fun day in the sun, you wear your tank tops and T-shirts, shorts, and sandals or flip-flops, because anything else would be far too hot to handle for hours on end. So why do gardeners, who spend all day in the hot sun, wear long sleeves?
Gardeners spend hours in the sun, so long sleeves minimize their risk from UV radiation. Long sleeves also form a physical barrier to protect the gardener’s arms from sharp thorns and branches, insects, and poisonous plants.
The primary reason why gardeners wear long sleeves is as a form of sun protection. Additional, although lesser reasons include as protection from thorns and scratches, as protection from insects, and as protection from poisonous plants.
Gardeners Wear Long Sleeves to Protect Them From the Sun
The most important reason why gardeners wear long sleeves while undertaking their work is definitely as physical protection against the sun, or more specifically, against the ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by the sun.
Every day, we are at risk from UVA and UVB, and anyone who spends much of their daytime hours outdoors, like a gardener, is at a higher risk of the adverse health effects associated with this energy.
UVA has lower energy because it has a longer wavelength, and UVB has higher energy because it has a shorter wavelength. Technically, the sun also gives off UVC, which has the shortest wavelength and the highest energy, but it is filtered out by the earth’s atmosphere, so it is not an issue in terms of sun exposure.
UVA and How It Harms the Skin
Approximately 95% of UVA rays reaching the earth are able to penetrate the atmosphere and pose a risk to gardeners out in the sun.
UVA is able to penetrate the skin deeply, passing through the epidermis and reaching the dermis.
These are the rays that lead to your immediate tan after spending some time in the sun. While some people might appreciate this, just remember that the rays are also hitting the DNA of your skin cells, causing mutations and damage.
The mutations and damage resulting from exposure to UVA rays are mostly associated with premature aging, including spider veins, wrinkles, and age spots. UVA exposure is also associated with the development of some kinds of skin cancer.
UVB and How It Harms the Skin
Most of the UVB radiation that reaches the earth is absorbed by the atmosphere; only about 5% is able to penetrate and come into contact with the surface of the earth. However, this 5% is capable of a lot of damage.
UVB rays are not capable of such deep skin penetration as UVA, but they are responsible for the red sunburn and blistering you get when out in the sun without protection.
UVB rays cause damage and mutations in skin cell DNA, and they do contribute to premature aging. However, the biggest concern is that they are responsible for most types of skin cancer that are seen.
As you can imagine, without long sleeves, a gardener, who can easily spend eight hours in the direct sunlight, is at a much higher risk of developing skin cancer than someone whose job is indoors.
Gardeners Wear Long Sleeves to Protect Them From Thorns and Scratches
As part of your everyday gardening work, you are at risk of being stabbed by thorns, cut by sharp rocks, scraped by twigs, etc. It might sound like minor injuries, and for the most part, they are.
However, there is always the chance of being deeply cut, stabbed by something poisonous, or simply developing an infection as you continue to work in the dirt that contains various bacteria.
Thus, gardeners benefit from wearing long sleeves as they are more protected from mechanical injury.
Of course, the strength and thickness of the shirt material determine how well a gardener’s arms are protected from these things, so wearing any old shirt is not going to cut it in this case.
Gardeners Wear Long Sleeves to Protect Them From Insects
Another reason to wear long sleeves as a gardener is all those pesky (or even helpful) insects that you can encounter in the garden.
There are countless insects that can bite or sting if they feel a gardener is encroaching in their territory or posing a risk of physical harm to themselves. And a bite or a sting from these insects can range from itchy to painful.
There are also arachnids like spiders, which can be more dangerous, and ticks, which can cause diseases like Lyme Disease and tick-bite fever.
Long sleeves limit the amount of skin exposed for these insects and bugs to attack.
Gardeners Wear Long Sleeves to Protect Them From Poisonous Plants
Similarly, there are many poisonous plant species that a gardener may come into contact with throughout the course of their work.
Obviously, they are more familiar with what is poisonous and what is not, but they could be reaching into some shrubbery, unaware of a potentially toxic plant hiding within.
Long sleeves help to prevent skin contact with these poisonous plants, whether it is the leaves, pollen, sap, etc., that poses the risk.
What Else Other Protective Clothing Should Gardeners Wear?
Long sleeves are not the only form of protective clothing a gardener should wear. They should also wear the following:
- A shirt with a high neckline or a collar
- Sleeves that cinch at the wrist
- Long pants
- Closed shoes with a solid sole (preferably extending past the ankle)
- A wide-brimmed hat that covers the back of their neck as well as their head and face
Even in the abovementioned kit, sunscreen should still be applied to any exposed skin and any skin that might be exposed if working in a particular position, even if it is covered when the gardener is standing normally.
Precautions to Take While Wearing Protective Clothing
As you can imagine, the gear described in the last section is capable of causing a whole new set of issues like heat stroke, chafing from sweat, etc. So, what should gardeners do to keep their core temperatures down while wearing protective clothing?
The first thing to do is to choose the correct material. Shirts with wicking technology are a good choice. Breathable materials like cotton are a must. You can also get things like shirts with mesh armpit vents.
Then staying hydrated is crucial, so gardeners should make sure to have access to plenty of cool water (not water that has been warmed by the sun).
Another trick is to divide your work into shade work and sun work and alternate throughout the day, or you can do the sun work in the early morning and late afternoon and the shade work when the sun is at its strongest.
While it may get very hot wearing long sleeves while working in the sun all day, the benefits thereof make it worthwhile enduring for a gardener who spends hours outside in the sun and among potential harmful plants and insects.
Undoubtedly, the main motivation behind the long sleeves is to protect their arms from exposure to the damaging UVA and UVB radiation from the sun. These cause painful burns, premature aging, and skin cancer.
Secondary functions of the long sleeves are protection against cuts and scrapes, insect bites and stings, and contact with poisonous plants. However, if it were not for the sun factor, fewer gardeners would consider these risks worth wearing long sleeves in the sweltering heat.