Minnesota’s Sun50: Dedicated to Protecting Construction Workers from the Sun’s Rays

Construction workers face plenty of dangers on job sites. Injury is just a misstep or equipment failure away. But there’s another danger that these workers often ignore: skin cancer from the long hours they spend in the sun each day.

And that’s just the problem that one Minneapolis-area business is tackling.

Sun50, based in Eagan, Minnesota, provides ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF, clothing such as beach coverups, swimwear and sun hats. But the company also provides men’s sportswear that provides protection against the sun’s rays, too.

These shirts could protect construction workers from the dangers of being exposed to too much sun during the say, said Christie Covarrubias, co-founder and chief executive officer of Sun50.

“We know that men are especially bad at putting sunscreen on,” Covarrubias said. “And construction workers don’t want to use sunscreen. It’s too slippery. But if you can give them a long-sleeve undershirt that is lightweight and cooling, that’s a different story.”

The dangers of skin cancer are real. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with one in five Americans developing it by the time they turn 70. The foundation says that more than two people die of skin cancer in the United States every hour. And people who have five or more sunburns during their lives double their risk of melanoma.

The danger is especially real for construction workers. They work at construction sites all day in the sun, exposing their skin to UV rays.

But by wearing the clothing provided by Sun50, these workers can significantly reduce their risk of contracting skin cancer, Covarrubias said. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen with a sun protection value, or SPF, of at least 30 to reduce skin aging and the risk of skin cancer. Covarrubias said that all Sun50 clothing exceeds this 30 SPF recommendation, providing protection even to construction workers logging long hours outdoors on the job site.

Covarrubias said that Sun50 can work closely with construction companies to create custom orders, providing as many or as few long-sleeve undershirts as they need.

“Men are the ones who really need this, who are most likely to get skin cancer,” Covarrubias said. “They don’t think they can get burnt and if they do get burnt, they don’t care.”

Men are the most likely, too, to spend long hours in the sun without sunscreen or without wearing protective clothing. As Covarrubias says, the average shirt comes with an SPF of 5. If the wearer sweats or the shirt gets wet, that SPF drops even further, down to 1 or 3.

“That’s nothing,” Covarrubias said.

But Sun50’s UV-protection shirts remain effective even if they do get drenched in sweat.

“We are committed to this,” Covarrubias said. “We founded our company with the mission of eliminating skin cancer and elevating skin cancer awareness.”

Covarrubias takes this mission seriously. She grew up in California during a time when wearing sunscreen wasn’t common. Sunburns, though, were.

Covarrubias spent her summers on the beaches of Lake Tahoe with her cousin, Renee, the pair often found sunning themselves on floating rafts.

“Frying your skin was a rite of passage back then,” Covarrubias said.

In her early 30s, though, Renee lost her life to melanoma. As Covarrubias says, she could have easily contracted melanoma, too.

Covarrubias, then, founded Sun50 as a way to honor the memory of her cousin and fight back against skin cancer. Sun50 today provides UPF clothing to both men and women, in a variety of styles, including the undershirts that can protect construction workers or any other people who spend long hours in the sun.

Sun50 manufactures 100 percent of its clothing in the United States, with 95 percent of it made in Minnesota. This is important to Covarrubias, too. She said the fabrics Sun50 buys are eco-friendly.

But can Sun50 convince construction workers to wear its UPF undershirts? Covarrubias thinks it can. The key, she said, is making the wearing of these protective shirts part of construction workers’ routine.

Covarrubias said she is already having preliminary discussions with construction companies about providing these shirts to workers. The hope is that companies will treat the undershirts as part of the regular construction-site outfit that workers generally wear. “Then it just becomes the undershirt they wear,” Covarrubias said. “Construction workers don’t have to think about it. They just put the shirt on. Construction workers tend to wear jeans or heavy pants on the job site, for safety reasons. This is the same reason why we developed the shirts we did, for safety reasons.”