So, do clothes provide sun protection? Yes, they do. But protection levels vary.
The back of sunscreen bottles tells you to wear a long sleeve shirt and pants in addition to using their product for a reason. One of the most basic ways to use clothing for sun protection is to cover more skin. Wear long sleeves rather than short sleeves. Have a cute cover-up over your bathing suit on the beach. Rock some adorable driving gloves to protect your hands if you have a long commute.
Then take a look at your wardrobe.
Some clothes protect better than others. UVA/UVB rays that cause cancer and aging can easily pass through lightweight and light-colored clothing. Have a favorite white cotton tee? Not only does it leave the rest of your arms exposed, but it also only blocks about 80% of UV rays.
What is UPF?
Like SPF for sunscreen, scientists have developed a UV protection scale for ranking clothing called Ultraviolet Protection Factor or UPF. Because the sun protection scene needed more acronyms.
A piece of clothing’s UPF is based on various factors (we’ll discuss them in a minute). But basically, a UPF of 50+ is excellent protection, blocking 98 percent of UVA and UVB rays. While a UPF 30 is adequate protection, blocking 97 percent of UV radiation.
Of course, you can buy UPF rated clothing online, but many of the clothes you already own provide excellent sun protection. For example, dark, denim blue jeans block most UV rays. Their deep color, heavyweight, and dense weave give them the equivalent of a UPF 50+ rating.
UPF Clothing Considerations
So what makes a piece of clothing have a high UPF? Check out this simplified chart based on factors given by the Skin Cancer Foundation:
Good: Tight weave that leaves few holes for UV rays to pass through
Bad: Loose weave, perfect for UV rays to sail through and ruin everyone’s life
Good- synthetic fabrics, shiny synthetic fabrics (suddenly a 1980s prom dress seems desirable)
Bad- bleached cotton
Good: synthetic fabrics, shiny synthetic fabrics (suddenly a 1980s prom dress seems desirable)
Bad: bleached cotton
Good: Thick material such as heavy cotton denim
Bad: lace, silk gauze
Tension or Strech
Good- not stretchy or stretched (wear clothes that fit correctly)
Bad- stretched material
Good – Good condition, not worn down or through
Bad- Worn, frayed
Shopping for UPF Clothing
Still interested in buying some officially UPF rated clothing?
Here are some cute beach inspired styles:
Women's Long Sleeves Rash Guard Athletic Swim Aztec UPF 50+ Tankini Sets Swimsuit
Coolibar UPF 50+ Catalina Beach Cover-Up Dress
Coolibar UPF 50+ Women's Convertible Sun Scarf
The Sun is Your Frienemy: UV Rays Explained
BALEAF Women's UPF 50+ Sun Protection T-Shirt Long/Short Sleeve Outdoor Performance
BALEAF Women's Sun Protection Dresses Beach Cover Ups UPF 50+ Quick Dry Long Sleeve Pockets Gofl Shirts
This adorable dress has pockets and a high UPF rating.