Sun protective clothing (or “sun-safe clothing”) is apparel that has been designed for the purpose of protecting you from the sun, and is made from a fabric that has been tested and rated for its UV protecting capabilities. While sunscreen is the most commonly talked about form of sun protection, there is no argument that highly rated UPF clothing is a more efficient and convenient means of protection. And we’re about to tell you why. In order to tell you why, we’ll need to clarify some things first…
So, what exactly is SPF?
SPF stands for sun protection factor, and is a measure of the amount of time a person can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. An SPF of 15, for example, should allow you to stay in the sun 15 times longer than you normally would without getting sunburned. So if you normally start getting pink after about 10 minutes, then theoretically an SPF sunscreen of 15 you should allow you to stay in the sun for 150 minutes longer without getting sunburned. Sounds like a long time, right? Think again. Several factors (or rules) must be considered for this statement to be true, including if an appropriate amount of sunscreen has been applied (studies show most people fall short here), whether or not the person has been swimming or sweating, whether there were missed spots occurred, etc. All these factors make the use of sunscreen exclusively for sun protection controversial, as missed spots are common, everyone’s sunburn threshold is different, and additionally a sunscreen’s SPF rating will only apply to protection against UVB rays (NOT UVA) unless stated otherwise with a ‘broad spectrum’ label. So even if your sunscreen prevents a sunburn, you are likely still doing permanent damage to your skin via those sneaky UVA rays.
UPF on the other hand is a numerical measure of how much UV radiation (UVA and UVB) is blocked by a fabric, and is unrelated to the amount of time spent outdoors. A UPF rating of 50 for example, means that only 1/50th of the suns’ radiation is able to penetrate the fabric, or 2%. Some benefits of certified sun protective clothing include:
- A UPF rating applies to both UVA and UVB rays
- A shirt won’t wash off while swimming or sweating
- Clothing covers more skin than no clothing at all, so missed areas are less frequent and easier to spot
What determines a piece of clothing’s ability to protect against UV rays?
Clothing is the most basic and best means of sun protection while outdoors, but not all clothing is created equal as far as protection goes. There are a few different factors that can influence the UPF of a garment, these are:
Fabric: Some fabrics are more protective than others. Some include polyester, lycra, nylon, and acrylic.
Weave: The tighter the weave of a fabric, the less UV radiation is able to penetrate through to the skin and vice versa.
Weight: Heavy and thick material generally absorbs more UV radiation than sheer or thin options.
Color: The brighter and more vivid the color, the greater the sun protection factor. Same goes for darker colors such as black and navy blue. Despite this, a pale colored fabric can still offer great protection so long as the weave, material, and weight are effective at keeping out UV radiation.
Stretch: If a product is stretched excessively, this can expand spaces between the weave of the fibers, thus allowing more UV radiation to penetrate the garment.
Moisture: Wet clothing will often lose some UV blocking capabilities (unless it’s been designed to maintain its UPF rating when wet).
Condition: A fabric’s UPF rating may decrease if it has been used excessively and not properly cared for (check out our Care Instructions to avoid this).
Chemicals: Finishing a fabric with chemicals that absorb UV radiation can enhance their UPF. UV Skinz Sun and Swimwear is chemical free, and maintains its UPF rating through its fabric construction and tight weave.
While being able to loosely evaluate fabric based on the tightness of the weave, color, and weight is beneficial, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly how protective a piece of clothing is with the naked eye alone. This is why your best bet to ensure you’re receiving adequate sun protection via your clothing is to choose options with a UPF rating label, as these products have been tested and certified for their sun protective abilities.
How is a UPF rating determined and assigned to a garment?
Legitimate evidence of an accurate UPF rating is a garment whose rating has been proven in accordance with AATCC183, ASTM D 6544 and ASTM D 6603.
During laboratory UPF testing, the fabric is initially tested using a UV transmittance test, and then tested again after it has been subjected to a simulation of two years normal, seasonal use. This is accomplished through repeated laundering (40-50 cycles), excessive simulated sunlight, and chlorinated pool water. Since most fabrics lose some level of UV protection with use over time, most fabrics’ UPF ratings are based off of the second uv transmittance test. Thus, when consumers see a UPF label on an item of clothing proven in accordance with these tests, they can feel confident in trusting the listed level of protection. Any fabric that allows less than 2% of UV radiation through is labeled UPF 50+, as this is the highest available rating.
Is it really that big of a deal to be in the sun without proper sun protection?
While the sun feels great, and everyone knows Vitamin D is necessary for good health, excessive and unprotected exposure to UV radiation causes premature skin aging, and can lead to painful sunburns, permanent damage and sun spots, and skin cancer. Think skin cancer is no big deal? Check out these My Stories from real people effected by skin cancer, particularly melanoma, and continue reading the stats below…
- 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 86 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun
- Each year, more cases of skin cancer are diagnosed than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined.
- The annual cost of treating skin cancers in the US is estimated at $8.1 billion
- One person dies from melanoma every 57 minutes (melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer)
- Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years old and the second most common form of cancer for young people 15-29 years old
- On average, experiencing 5 or more sunburns in your lifetime doubles your risk for developing melanoma. Sustain those sunburns during youth, and your risk jumps to 80 percent (*this is why protecting your children in particular is SO important!)
So why wear certified UPF clothing if regular clothing can offer similar levels of protection?
There is no way to know the exact UPF level of a garment unless it has been tested and certified, therefore highly rated UPF clothing provides security and peace of mind in the sun for the user. A thick jean jacket, for example, will likely have a high UPF. However depending on the activities you intend to participate in throughout the day, this may not be a realistic sun protective option for you. You may desire features in addition to being sun protective such as chlorine and saltwater resistance, quick-drying capabilities, lightweight, comfortable, and breathable fabric (none of which are qualities present in a jean jacket, unfortunately). UV Skinz UPF 50+ Sun and Swimwear has been designed with all the above features in mind, making it the ideal choice for your sun protection needs, especially for activities involving water. We sell products for men, women, and children with sizes ranging from 3 months to 4XL.
Shop our entire Sun and Swimwear collection here.