top of page

How to choose sun protective clothing

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

The goal of sun-protective clothing is to understand the amount of protection your skin has from UV exposure underneath your clothing. The false sense of protection we can gain from clothing without UV protection can lead to chronic UV damage that accumulates in the DNA of our cells. The long-term effects of this have been linked to the development of skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. Read more...

 

Topics

 

sun protective clothing

Photo: Techei

Disclaimer: This page contains an affiliate link to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through this link.



Can you explain what sun-protective clothing actually is and how it works?



Most people think their skin is protected from UV (ultraviolet) exposure if they are wearing any type of clothing. To some extent, this can be true but the question is really how much protection is your clothing offering?


Studies have shown that a white T-shirt's average UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) is around 5. This is not even close to the recommended minimum UPF of 20. We often apply sunscreen to exposed areas of skin and do not tend to consider the need to protect it under our clothing. Although daily chronic UV may not show itself as an actual sunburn, cellular damage occurs with chronic sun exposure.


To be able to tell if your clothing is protecting you from UV it needs to disclose the testing it has undergone for UV protection. Skincare products use a rating scale called “SPF” or sun protection factor to give a sense of protection the product offers. Most people are familiar with this rating, in spite of how confusing it may be. Clothing is rated by UPF, ultraviolet protection factor. This rating scale and what it indicates are a little different.


UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor. Clothing items and textiles can be tested for how much UV is blocked by the textile. There are specific standardized tests that are performed that indicate how much UV is blocked initially AND sustained through 40 machine wash/dry cycles. Clothing is tested before and after the 40 cycles. Why? The testing is trying to simulate normal wear and tear that a garment may experience. The other big difference is that UPF tells us how much UVA and UVB are blocked by the textile. This is helpful because both types of UV can be responsible for UV damage to our skin over time.



What is the goal of wearing sun-protective clothing?



The goal of sun-protective clothing is to understand the amount of protection your skin has from UV exposure underneath your clothing. The false sense of protection we can gain from clothing without UV protection stated can lead to chronic UV damage that accumulates in the DNA of our cells. The long-term effects of this have been linked to the development of skin cancer and premature aging of the skin.


Another essential goal of sun-protective clothing that is designed appropriately is to reduce the need for traditional sunscreen lotions or products. If designed with coverage in mind, we can reduce the need for traditional sunscreen products for the face, hands, and limited areas of the body. This will reduce the overall impact of sunscreen products on our health (we absorb 4 x the safe amount in our bloodstream after one day of use on exposed areas not covered by a bathing suit) and the environment (the impact on coral and aquatic life).



What are some features someone should look for in sun-protective clothing?


  1. Check the label for the UPF rating. A UPF of at least 30 is recommended for very good UV protection. UPF of 50 is excellent UV protection. This label gives an indication that the garment was tested for its ability to block UV rays.

  2. Check the style. A sun-protective string bikini is not going to provide much UV protection for your overall body surface area. Look for products that offer added style features such as mock necks, thumb tabs, and half zips.

  3. Find styles you would actually wear every day. If you only choose sun protective clothing that is meant to cover you up but is not attractive or stylish, then you quite simply will not routinely wear it. Think about sunscreens- if they are white and pasty, you will only wear them when you absolutely have to but not as a matter of routine. The sun we get at the beach and the pool is the exact same sun that we get when out for a walk, stuck in traffic, or gardening. Sun protection is important every day.



For each of the following categories, can you please share one piece of sun-protective clothing that you would recommend and why?



Swimsuits

The ideal swimsuit design offers:

  • High back for UV protection to the back to avoid sunburns around straps.

  • Half zip at the chest to offer coverage when needed to the delicate skin of the chest

  • Long sleeves that can offer UV protection that does not wash off until you take it off

  • Swim pants or leggings are a wonderful quick offer for UV protection to the legs when needed.



Hiking gear

Hiking places our head, scalp, back of the neck, back of the arms, and legs at risk for UV. The ideal hiking gear offers:

  • Mock neck for the back of the neck coverage. We tend to turn our back to the sun not realizing that in protecting our face we are placing our neck and back at risk for excess UV exposure.

  • Long sleeves for protection we can rely on

  • Hats! UPF is used to rate hats as well. Wide-brimmed hats with at least a 3-inch brim all around can offer UV protection and shade.



Long-sleeve tops

Long sleeves alone are not the only feature to seek in a hat. I recently found a melanoma on the shoulder of a patient that wears sun-protective shirts routinely. The boat neck of the top revealed the precise location of her melanoma. Her tan line showed it was not covered by the shirt and she did not wear sunscreen on the exposed area with the false assumption her shirt was doing the job. Features to look for include:

  • Mock neck

  • Long sleeves with thumb tabs to protect the back of the hands while driving and walking

  • Half-zip is a bonus at the chest to offer


Pants

One of the most common places for melanoma to develop is on the calves. The legs are commonly missed for sunscreen use on a daily basis. The right pants can make a difference.

  • Long pants, ideally to ankle

  • Wide legs pants or boot-cut pants can offer added coverage for the tops of the feet


Running gear

Running midday presents a challenge for those that focus on sunscreen use alone. Sweating can make the sunscreen less effective and wear off quickly. Look for


  • Tops with long sleeves, mock neck

  • Leggings to wear the sock meets the end of the legging for full coverage

  • Close-fitting to avoid exposure with active movement

  • Moisture-wicking for sweat



sun protective clothing

Comments


Get in the know!

Join our email list and get access to specials deals exclusive to our subscribers.

Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page