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Sun Protective Clothing 101: How to Dodge Skin Damage

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Is the fear of sun tan keeping you away from enjoying the warm sun? Is your top brand sunscreen not good enough? Then perhaps it’s time to add some good Sun protective clothing to your wardrobe. Outdoor activities such as hiking are fun and refreshing. They keep us active and well-functioning with a healthy dose of Vitamin D. But indulging too much in the sun without the right protection could be a health hazard too.

Sure, you hate the tan lines once you are off the beach or back from an adventurous hiking trip.

Sun Protective Clothing 101: How to Dodge Skin Damage
Indulging too much in the sun without the right protection can be a health hazard

But do you realize what the likely skin damage could cumulative to over the years?

You see, along with Vitamin D, sun rays consist of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiations that have the potential to cause various skin complications such as skin tanning, sunburn, premature skin aging and skin cancer. And in the absence of appropriate sun protection assets like sun protective clothing, sunscreen lotion, hats, etc. the likelihood of getting diagnosed with skin problems multiplies.

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You see, along with Vitamin D, sun rays consist of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiations that have the potential to cause various skin complications such as skin tanning, sunburn, premature skin aging and skin cancer. And in the absence of appropriate sun protection assets like sun protective clothing, sunscreen lotion, hats, etc. the likelihood of getting diagnosed with skin problems multiplies.

One of the best ways you can protect yourself from the toxic UV rays is suiting up in sun protective clothing.

Sun Protective Clothing – Safeguard Yourself!

As the name suggests, sun protective clothing is specially designed clothing for maximum sun protection. Covering our body is the basic and first line of defense against the sun. Clothes either absorb or block much of the sun’s harmful UV radiations and shield us from the likely skin problems.

Sun protective clothing is produced from a fabric that is rated for its ultraviolet level protection. If you see an ordinary fabric under a microscope, you shall find that there are spaces between the fibers, and through these spaces, the UV rays can easily pass through and reach your skin.

Could Sun-Protective Clothing Replace Sunscreen
Safeguard Yourself

Fabric Factors

A good sun protective fabric is evaluated in terms of the weave, color, weight, stretch, and wetness of the fabric. Most fabrics naturally absorb UV radiation while some have elastic threads that pull the fabric tightly together, reducing the spaces between the fibers. Denser the fabric, better the protection. A fabric when it is wet cannot provide as much sun protection unless it is silk or viscose which can get more protective when wet.

Synthetic fibers such as polyester, lycra, nylon, and acrylic are more protective than the bleached pieces of cotton. Polyester contains a benzene ring that absorbs UV light. Shiny or lustrous semi-synthetic fabrics like rayon reflect more UV than the matte ones do, such as linen, which tend to absorb UV radiation rather than reflect. Finally, consider the fabric’s weight, density, and color — light, sheer silk gauze will provide far less UV protection than heavy cotton denim. However, heavy-weight and dark-colored fabrics cause heat retention.

Sun Protective Clothing
Synthetic fibers such as polyester, lycra, nylon, and acrylic are the best

Also, we wear sun protective clothing during the day in the sun, and the warm and humid weather causes perspiration. Therefore, the sun protective clothing is made of UV-blocking textiles with ventilated weaves, moisture wicking, and antibacterial properties to assist in cooling and breathability. Sounds better than your ordinary attires, doesn’t it?

Color Comparisons

The fabric color also renders UV ray protection. Generally, darker colors or dyes absorb UV rays which reduce exposure. On the other hand, paler colors like white and pastels do absorb UV but not as much as the darker hues. Additionally, brighter colors such as red can also substantially absorb UV radiations.

As a part of complete sun protection regimen, it is advisable to put on a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

Sun Protective Clothing
Sunglasses are a must!

However, do not judge UV rating of a cloth by its color alone. A vivid colored garment will provide greater UV protection but an outfit in pale color can also offer good sun protection provided the weave, material, weight, etc. are effective at keeping the UV rays out.

And now, quite a few white fabrics consist of optical whitening agents, compounds that efficiently absorb ultraviolet rays, especially UVA.

UPF ratings

You must be familiar with the term SPF but do you understand the acronym UPF?

Not sure?

Okay, let’s update you about UPF and UPF rating for sun protective clothing.

UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. It is the rating system used for garments, quite similar to SPF (Sun Protection Factor) ratings for sunscreen products. UFA gauges the effectiveness of a fabric against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light. It represents what ratio of sun rays can penetrate the fabric. For example, a fabric rated UFA 50 means it allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV rays to reach the skin.


Like we said, UPF is the rating used for clothing and other fabrics that indicate the amount or ratio of UVA and UVB rays that can penetrate the cloth to reach our skin. On the contrary, SPF is the rating used for cosmetics and sunblocks. The SPF number suggests the amount of time you can stay in the sun before your skin reddens. SPF rates a sunscreen’s ability to provide protection against the UVB rays.

The sun protective clothing concept became popular in Australia first and then gradually, the rest of the world adopted it. The modern sun protective clothing undergoes a stringent lab-testing procedure that includes fabric longevity, abrasion/wear, and washability.

Using the Australian method as a model, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) established a standard UFA testing protocol in 2001. The present revised ASTM Standard for Sun Protective Clothing and Swimwear is as below

UPF Rating Protection Category UV radiation Blocked (%)
15-24 Good 93.3 – 95.9
25-39 Very Good 96.0 – 97.4
40-50+ Excellent 97.5 – 98+

According to recent testing done by Consumer Reports, protective fabrics typically have UPF ~30 while standard summer fabrics like a cotton shirt will have UPF ~6.

UPF Clothing Features

Sun Protective Clothing
Choose your clothes properly
  • Extra coverage

Some shirts have flip-up sun collars and others might have cuffs designed to extend coverage over the back of the hands. In hats, look for broad brims, preferably with neck capes.

  • Vents

Tight weaves, thick fabrics, and extended coverage tend to retain heat, so look for maximum ventilation options.

  • A looser cut

Steer clear of tightly fitting garments because a fabric that stretches too much becomes significantly less effective at blocking UV light.

  • Quick-drying fabrics

Wetness can reduce a fabric’s UPF effectiveness as much as half. So, shop for garments that dry quickly to give you the full UPF rating sooner.

Who Can Benefit from UPF Clothing

Sun protective clothing
Benefit from UPF Clothing

Everyone! Protection is better than cure, and so when you know that you will be out in the sun for an extended period, it is better to slip into UPF-rated clothes. Here’s who can benefit from UPF Clothing-

  • Pale skinned individuals: People with lighter or paler skin tone are more vulnerable to UV rays as their skin get burned easily in the sun.
  • Kids: Children and younger individuals have thinner and more sensitive skin. An early age skin damage can increase skin problem risks later in life.
  • People at high elevations, in equatorial regions, or on snow or water: The intensity of the sun is comparatively greater in each of the mentioned areas. People who love hiking to the highest of the altitudes should also wear UPF rated garments because the sun intensity is higher at high elevations.
  • Individuals on medications: A wide range of medicines increase sun sensitivity. Drugs like acne treatments, antihistamines, antibiotics, certain anti-inflammatories, even herbal supplements could make you susceptible to sun attack.

Caution: People with dark skin tones might rarely experience sun burns but they are not 100% secure from skin damage. There’s still a possibility of skin cancer. Hence, those people should also be proactive about sun protection.

Factors that enhance UPF ratings

When you shop for sun protective garments, look at the UPF spec on it. The manufacturers consider the following factors in trying to achieve the optimum level of sun protection:

  • Construction: Dense, tight construction minimizes the gap between the fibers and thereby reduce the amount of UV light that can pass through. Thicker fabrics also reduce UV transmission.
  • Color: Darker colors absorb more radiation overall, including UV rays. And within the same color, more vibrant hues outperform the paler ones.
  • Treatments: To enhance UPF ratings, garments are treated with chemicals and dyes that are effective at absorbing UV light.
  • Fiber type: Polyester is the winner fiber; it does an excellent job at disrupting UV light, as does nylon. Wool and silk are moderately effective. Cotton, rayon, flax and hemp fabrics score low without added chemical treatments.

Factors that reduce UPF ratings

While examining the UPF specifications on new clothing or packing your favorite rashguards for a trip to the tropics, be mindful of the following:

  • Fabric wetness

For many types of materials, wetness leads to a significant drop in a fabric’s UPF rating. Some studies, though, suggest that polyester, silk, and viscose may actually protect slightly better when wet.

  • Fabric wear

As a fabric wears or fades, it also becomes less effective at blocking UV light.

  • Fabric stretch

Stretched fabric can lose a considerable amount of its UPF ability. So, consider replacing any item that simply fits your body too tightly.

How laundering affects UPF ratings

Sun Protective Clothing
Wash your clothes properly

Washing your clothing can either increase or decrease its UPF. Below are the factors that determine the effects of laundering on UPF ratings:

  • Detergents with brighteners

While most detergents and brighteners guarantee to enhance UPF, there’s no way to tell if a given detergent will certainly enhance your garment’s UPF rating.

  • Shrinkage

Shrinking a garment gives it a tighter weave, which can increase its UPF. But avoid wearing if it is too tight.

  • Number of washes

Certain clothing relies on its finish for the UPF rating, and as the finish wears out with time, the UPF also diminishes. Check if your garment states that its UPF rating is good for a specific number of washes.

  • Fabric properties

Some clothing counts on the inherent fabric properties for its sun protection. Such clothing should have relatively unchanged UPF ratings irrespective of the number of washes until it diminishes simply because the fabric has worn or faded.

Sun Protective Clothing – Top Brands to Choose From

If you understand the importance of sun protective clothing and would like to stock up on some good gears then here are some of the top brands to choose from. Take a look!

  1. Sun Precautions Inc.

This brand is in the business for over 15 years now. The credibility of the brand can be understood by its CEO’s name- Mr. Shaun Hughes, an avid downhill ski racer and outdoors enthusiast who was diagnosed with skin cancer at the age of 26! Now, who would better understand the value of sun protection than Hughes?

The company’s Solumbra sun protective clothing line blocks up to 97 percent of UVA and UVB radiations. Solumbra clothing has also cleared FDA’s test in 1992.

  1. Coolibar

Another expert in the sun protective clothing field is Coolibar. The brand boasts a 50+ SPF rating for all of its garments. They use a proprietary tight-weave yet breezy fabric to make its clothing, including wide-brimmed hats and long-sleeved bathing suits among many other items.

  1. Mott50

They offer an array of sun protective options. Ranging from activewear and swimwear to hats, scarves, sweaters and more, Motto50 products offers sun protection in style.

  1. Roxy

If you are a beach person who loves to surf and sun bathe then your sun protection should be more than a bottle of sunblock. Classic surf brands such as Roxy presents smart sun protective gears in sporty prints and color-blocked styles. Also, check out items labeled as “swim shirt” or “sun shirt.”

  1. Dorfman Pacific

For sun protection hats, look through Dorfman Pacific UPF 50+ hats. These hats are curated from a proprietary fabric blend called Solarweave- a lightweight fabric that effectively fends off UVA and UVB rays.

Do-It-Yourself Activity

Not interested in investing in sun protective gears?

No worries! You can improve an existing piece of clothing’s UPF in simple steps.

Wash the garment as this generally makes clothes to shrink slightly- closing up the spaces in the fabric. You can also add UV-filtering dyes and other additives while washing it for extra protection and consequently raise the UPF.

That being said, here are some tips for buying and staying sun-safe smartly with sun protective clothing:

  1. Understand the purpose- Buy clothes that suit your purpose. You don’t need a denim or a corduroy shirt for the beach. A long sleeved, tightly woven linen shirt can do the trick and make you look both cool and sun-smart.
  2. When buying elastic garments like leggings, make sure to purchase the right size — overstretching will decrease the UPF rating.
  3. Opt for garments with a minimum UPF 30 to get effective sun protection.
  4. Cover more – Choose garments that with maximum coverage. It is foolish to wear a high-UPF bikini. Instead, go for a rash guard or a swim shirt in lightweight, elastic materials like spandex. These athletic apparels will cover your upper body without weighing you down. Also, keep the beach skirts or sarongs ready when you leave the water.
  5. Wash new cotton or cotton blend garments at least two or three times. More often than not, washing can permanently raise the UPF rating due to shrinkage of the spaces between the fibers.
  6. Along with appropriate sun protective clothes, select wide-brimmed hats (at least 3” in diameter) that shade your face, neck, and ears.
  7. During outdoor activities, minimize your time in the direct sun by seeking out shaded areas under awnings or trees.
  8. Remember that UV light can bounce off surfaces such as water, snow, and glass, and hit your skin twice, thereby increasing the intensity of exposure.
  9. Only UPF clothing isn’t enough. Wear UV-filtering sunglasses and sunscreen lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 for daily incidental exposure and 30 or higher for prolonged exposure. Liberally apply sunscreen on all exposed areas of skin.

So, now the question is…

Could sun-protective clothing replace sunscreen?

Sun Protective Clothing
Sunscreen is essential too!

Not really!


Well, you see both sun-protective clothing and sunscreen form parts of a complete sun protection routine. Recent researches by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group affirms the inadequacy of quite a few popular sunscreens against the sun radiations, some of them even contain potentially carcinogenic ingredients. On the other hand, clothes cannot cover our body entirely. And those areas which aren’t covered by the garments can be protected with a certified sunscreen.

Thus, it is good to say that covering and smearing for sun protection go hand-in-hand and a long way. Do share your tips. We would love to know your thoughts!

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