Does Sun Protective Clothing Work?

We all know that sunscreen is a skin care essential. Yet, it might be tempting to splurge on sun protective clothing. These items claim to block out ultraviolet (UV) rays, offering another layer of protection. It seems brilliant – but is it worth the money? Typically, the general rule of thumb is to wear long-sleeved shirts, pants, and long skirts. Wide-brimmed hats offer more protection, especially if you don’t want to cover up. Plus, an average t-shirt has an SPF less than 15, so other forms of protection are a must.1

What Is Sun Protective Clothing?

Sun-protective clothing is rated with an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF

To boost UV protection, sun protective clothing is often made with tighter weaves and darker colors. It’s rated with an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF. Think of it like SPF but for clothes. A UPF of 50 means that 1/50th of the sun’s rays pass through. The higher the

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UPF, the more UV rays are blocked. For sun protective clothes, there’s a total of three categories:

15 – 24: “Good UV Protection”
25 – 39: “Very Good UV Protection”
40 – 50: “Excellent Protection”

What You Need To Know About Sun Protective Clothing

1. UPF Matters

Anything with a UPF less than 15 should not have the claim of being sun protective

Like SPF, UPF is everything. Anything with a UPF less than 15 should not have the claim of “sun protective.” As for anything more than 50? According to the Federal Trade Commission, anything higher than 50 doesn’t work any better than UPF 50.2

2. Water Lowers UPF

When the clothes are damp or wet, the UPF value decreases

A normal, damp shirt loses its SPF. It’s the same deal with sun protective clothing. When it’s worn damp

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or wet, the UPF value decreases. Don’t bother with UPF bikinis. Not only is there less coverage, but swimming will just lower the UPF.3

3. Washing Lowers UPF

Repeated washing also lowers the UPF

Repeated washing also lowers the UPF. The same goes for all clothes, so keep this in mind. Repeatedly washing anything will make thin the fabric, letting UV rays pass through.4

4. Dark Fabric Is Better

If you’re going to invest in sun-protective garments, choose darker fabrics

If you’re going to invest in sun protective garments, choose darker fabrics. Bright colors, like red, are also a smart choice. Compared to whites and pastels, they’ll do a better job at absorbing UV rays.

5. Buy The Right Size

Overstretching actually lowers the UPF rating

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It seems like a no-brainer, but the right size makes it effective. Overstretching actually lowers the UPF rating.5 If possible, go to the store and actually try on clothes.

Final Verdict

Sun-protective clothing does work

Sun protective clothing does work, but it shouldn’t be your only defense. Look at it as one part of a complete sun protection routine. Need a refresher? Follow these tips from the CDC for sun safety.

  • Hang out in the shade, like under trees or umbrellas. Wear hats with brims 3 inches or greater, but avoid straw ones.6
  • Wear hats with brims 3 inches or greater, but avoid straw ones. Use sunglasses. Wrap-around versions are the best bet.7
  • Use sunglasses. Wrap-around versions are the best bet.
  • Apply sunscreen of SPF 15 or more, even on cloudy days. Re-apply sunscreen
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    every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating.
  • Re-apply sunscreen every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating. Use SPF cosmetics and lip balms only if they are SPF 15 or more.
  • Use SPF cosmetics and lip balms only if they are SPF 15 or more. Don’t use sunscreen after the expiration date.8
  • Don’t use sunscreen after the expiration date.9

Don’t want to splurge? Wear dark clothes made of lycra, elastane, nylon, and polyester. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, these fabrics have higher UPF values compared to cotton.10

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