Today, we have more options than ever to be sun safe. An important strategy, frequently overlooked, is covering up – and protecting yourself – using your clothing. From wearing long pants and sleeves to finding clothing specifically designed to shield you from ultraviolet light – clothing is an easy way to quickly protect your skin from the sun without the muss and fuss that sunscreens can sometimes create.
The first rule of thumb when it comes to covering up, is that the more skin covered, the better. For example, if you wore a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and a wide-brimmed hat to the beach you’d be far more protected than if you wore cut-off shorts over your bikini. Clothing is your first line of defense against the sun’s rays. However, when combined with other sun safety strategies such as wearing (and reapplying) sunscreen, seeking shade, and avoiding peak rays – you can maximize your protection and create a daily sun safety routine that works for you.
What is UPF Clothing?
While all clothing offers some protection from the sun, some fabrics are specially designed (and tested) to offer you measurable protection, what experts call UPF clothing. UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, is used to measure the effectiveness of sun protective clothing. Specifically, UPF indicates what fraction of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate the fabric - meaning that the higher the UPF rating, the more protection it offers you. For example, a shirt with 100 UPF allows a slim 1/100th of the sun’s UV rays to pass through to your skin (that’s only 1%!), giving your body a fantastic layer of protection.
As SPF, or sun protection factor, is for sunscreen, UPF is for clothes.
What Should I Know About UPF Clothing?
While all clothing offers some level of protection against the sun, UPF clothing has been scientifically engineered to protect your skin from UV rays. UPF clothing has also been tested to ensure that it consistently offers a similar level of protection, despite being washed or worn many times. The downside of UPF clothing is that it can sometimes cost more than traditional clothing.
What Makes Regular Clothing and UPF Clothing Different?
Clothing specifically labeled as UPF can give you a greater peace of mind about the level of protection that it offers. For example, a thin UPF-50 shirt offers significant protection while a thin cotton t-shirt averages only UPF-5 – a 90% drop in protection. UPF clothing is also designed to offer consistent UV protection wet or dry; something that normal clothing can’t always provide.
Factors that Influence the Sun Protection Offered by Clothing:
You should look for these three factors when shopping for non-UPF clothes:
- Coverage: The biggest factor that influences the amount of protection offered by clothing is how much of your skin it covers. The more skin covered, the more skin protected.
- Material: Clothing that is tightly woven or thickly constructed offers more natural protection than light weight options. In addition, synthetic fabrics such as polyester offer more protection than all-natural fabrics such as cotton.
- Color: Dark and bright colors protect you better than light colors.
UPF clothing is specifically designed to shield you from UV light, so it can be made from thinner and lighter-colored fabrics while still offering you significant protection. Keep in mind that UPF clothing only protects the skin it covers!
Where Can I Find UPF Clothing?
There are several companies that work on new technologies to develop the most protective article of clothing. Here are some brands that sell UPF-specific clothing:
Treat your Clothing with an UPF Additive
Another way to increase the protection offered by clothing you already own is by using a product like SunGuard. SunGuard, and other products like it, is a laundry additive that adds up to 30 UPF to your regular clothes for up to 20 washes. The technology works by adhering a chemical sunscreen to your clothes called Tinosorb FD, which absorbs the UV rays before passing through to your skin.
Sun-protective clothing can be a particularly helpful way to keep kids sun safe. Children have especially sensitive skin when it comes to the sun. Though not a replacement for sunscreen (because clothes don’t cover hands, neck, ears, etc.), dressing your children in UPF clothing offers long-lasting protection and additional peace of mind.