You Can Get a Sunburn Through Clothes? Here’s What Experts Say

Can you get a sunburn through your clothes? Today, UV Skinz shares important information about why clothing can't protect you from sunburns as well as input from us and skin experts on how to stay sun-safe with UPF 50+ swimwear and clothing. Head to our blog to learn more today.
Baby in UV Skinz's UPF clothing

"Can you get sunburn through your clothes?" might be one of the most common questions we receive but the answer is not as straightforward as you might think. While most clothing does provide some level of protection against the sun's harmful UV rays, there are best practices and varying levels of fabric quality (not all fabric will actually protect you from the sun). The honest truth is that yes, UV light can get through your clothes, so you can get a sunburn when wearing clothing that doesn’t have a lab-tested UPF rating. 

What Are Some Safe Sun Practices?

“Protective clothing and broad-rimmed hats are one of the most important steps when it comes to safe sun practices in my opinion,” says Melissa Kanchanapoomi Levin, MD, a dermatologist in New York, NY. A skin expert, she notes, “Heavy perspiration, water activities, and incomplete application of sunscreen causes sunscreen products to rub off and lose their effectiveness, resulting in incomplete sun protection.”  

Wear UPF 50+ Swimwear and Clothing

A regular shirt made of cotton or polyester can block around 5 to 15% of UV radiation, but that just doesn’t cut it for adequate sun protection. You need a sun shirt or other UPF clothing with a UPF 50+ rating. When we launched in 2007 we actually started by only selling UPF swim shirts rated at UPF 50+ that block 98% of harmful sun rays! 

Wear Darker Colored Clothing 

According to dermatologists and other skin experts, the type of fabric, color, and fit of your clothing can all affect how well it protects your skin. For example, tightly-woven fabrics like denim or polyester can offer more protection than loose-fitting, lightweight fabrics like cotton or linen. Dark colors also tend to absorb more UV radiation than lighter colors.

Educate Yourself on Sun Safety 

Did you know 5 or more sunburns in your lifetime can double your risk for melanoma? Did you also know that more than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour? Educating yourself about skin cancer and how to stay safe in the sun is a great way to prevent sunburns and protect your skin for life.


Sun cancer facts


How Do You Protect Yourself from UV Rays Then?

To put simply, if you want to protect yourself from the harmful effects of UV radiation, choose sun-protective clothing that has a UPF rating of 50 or higher, covers as much skin as possible, and is made of darker colors and thicker fabrics.

Can You Get a Sunburn Through Wet Clothing?

Yes, you can get a sunburn through wet clothing. Water doesn't block UV radiation, and wet clothing can actually allow more UV rays to pass through to your skin than dry clothing does. Unfortunately, you can get a sunburn through wet clothing but the extent to which the sun's rays penetrate wet clothing depends on various factors, such as the thickness and color of the fabric, and the amount of water in it. Find a fabric that can maintain the necessary sun protection while wet, like our UPF 50+  long-sleeve swimsuits for women.

Can You Get a Sunburn Through a T-Shirt?

Everyday t-shirts have a low UPF rating and may not provide adequate protection against the sun's harmful rays. Yes, you can get a sunburn through a t-shirt, especially if it's thin or made from a lightweight fabric like cotton. According to Sandra Davis, MSc, a typical cotton T-shirt only has a UPF of around 5 to 15, which is not enough to fully protect your skin. So, while a t-shirt can provide some protection against the sun's rays, it's not recommended to solely rely on that as a form of sun protection. 

Can You Get a Sunburn Through a White T-Shirt?

Yes, you can get a sunburn through a white t-shirt as it only provides some protection from UV rays. Its UPF rating is only about 5 to 15, which means you aren't safe from the sun if you're wearing a regular white t-shirt. Opt for a UPF 50+ shirt instead. 

Can You Get Sunburnt When Wearing Cotton Clothing? 

Cotton has a low UPF rating so while it does provide some protection it does not provide enough protection against the sun's harmful rays, so yes, you can get sunburnt wearing cotton clothing. Cotton tends to be lightweight and breathable, which can be comfortable in hot weather, but it also means that UV radiation can easily pass through the fabric. And the UPF rating just plummets once it’s wet, stretched, or worn out.

Can You Get Sunburnt Through Windows?

If you’ve ever been on a long road trip with the sun beating through the windows then I’m sure you have experienced the wrath of these harmful sun rays. Yes, you can get sunburnt through windows. While glass can block UVB rays – which are responsible for sunburns – it doesn't block UVA rays – which can also cause skin damage and increase the risk of skin cancer. The amount of UV radiation that passes through windows depends on various factors, such as the type of glass and the angle of the sun.

Can You Get a Sunburn Through Leggings?

Yes, you can get a sunburn through leggings if those leggings don't have a UPF rating, especially a high UPF rating such as 50+. The sun's UV rays can easily go through the fabric of your leggings and damage your skin, causing sunburns. 

Do Synthetic Fabrics Protect You From the Sun?

Synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester provide better sun protection than natural fibers like cotton or linen. Many synthetic fabrics are tightly woven or knit, creating a denser barrier against UV radiation and are treated with UV-absorbing chemicals, which can help block the sun's harmful rays. In essence, they have a higher UPF rating just by design. While sporting clothes with synthetic fibers is one step higher than clothes with natural fibers, it’s still not best case! Clothes rate at UPF 50+ is what we are looking for! For maximum protection we recommend head-to-toe protection, like our baby boy swimsuit or baby girl swimsuit coupled with a wide-brim hat and sunscreen!

What Colors Should You Wear to Protect Yourself from Sunburns?

Darker colors tend to offer more protection against the sun's rays than lighter colors, as they absorb more UV radiation. Colors such as the following can help protect you from sunburns:

  • Black
  • Navy
  • Deep reds 

These colors can be especially effective at blocking UV rays. However, dark colors can also absorb more heat, making them less comfortable in hot weather. All of our clothes at UV Skinz are rated UPF 50+ so we have already taken the guesswork out of what colors you should or should not wear. Everything in our catalog is fair game!

Man in a UV Skinz's dark blue UPF hoodie

What Types of Clothing Offer the Best Sun Protection?

Clothing with a UPF 50+ rating is most effective at protecting against the sun's harmful rays. UPF-rated clothing is designed to block 98% of UVA and UVB rays and can provide much higher levels of protection than regular clothing. Look for clothing that has the best UPF rating, a UPF 50+ rating, and is 3rd party tested to ensure efficacy. 

What Skin Experts Have to Say About Sunburns and UPF Clothing

Sunburns can increase the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.” Dermatologists and other skin experts agree that wearing UPF 50+ clothing is one of the most effective ways to protect your skin from the sun's harmful rays.  

benefits of UPF 50+ swimwear


Does UPF Clothing Protect You From Getting Skin Cancer? 

Several studies have found that UPF clothing can help protect against skin cancer by reducing the amount of UV radiation that penetrates the skin. One study found that wearing UPF clothing reduced the incidence of melanoma by 50%. Another study found that UPF clothing can provide long-lasting protection, even after multiple washings. 

Combining UPF clothing with sunscreen and seeking shade during peak UV hours can provide even greater protection against skin cancer. 

If you’re worried about the amount of sun exposure you and your family get, be sure to check out our hottest collection of UPF clothing. We offer free shipping on all U.S. orders.