Sunscreen, check. Wide-brimmed hat, check. Shady locations scouted, check. UV-protective clothing, check?! Yes, you read that right - there is such a thing as UV-protective clothing, and it’s something you should think about adding to your arsenal if you spend a lot of time in the sun!
UPF vs. SPF
You’re probably familiar with SPF (Sun Protection Factor). This factor is based on the amount of time it takes for skin to burn when exposed to UV radiation. If you typically burn in 20 minutes, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 should allow you to stay in the sun for about 15x that amount of time.
UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor), which is how we measure the sun-protectiveness of fabric, indicates how much UV radiation can get through a fabric and onto your skin. Whereas SPF only blocks UVB rays (those which cause sunburn and skin cancer), UPF blocks both UVA and UVB rays (protecting you from sunburn, skin cancer, premature aging and other skin damage).
When looking at UPF clothing, know that the higher the rating, the more protective it is. The Skin Cancer Foundation lends its Seal of Recommendation to fabrics with a UPF of 30 or above. A UPF of 30 - 49 offers very good protection, while UPF 50+ rates as excellent.
What makes clothing sun safe?
While all clothing blocks some of the sun’s harmful rays, there are several factors that account for varying levels of protection. Here are some things to look for as you shop for UPF clothing:
We’ve all heard that dark colours absorb light, right? In the case of sun protection, that’s a good thing. Dark and bright colours absorb those UV rays before they can penetrate the fabric and damage your skin.
The tighter the weave of a cloth, the harder it is for UV rays to get through. Think of it like a blackout curtain - fabrics like denim, canvas, wool or synthetic fibres won’t allow much light through, but thin, sheer and loose weaves will.
This is where the newer UPF clothing on the market really shines. Technical synthetics like shiny polyester, or natural fabrics with a satiny finish like silk reflect radiation away from you. Some fabrics are also treated with UV absorbers or dyes to further reduce the penetration of UV rays.
Fit & coverage
Try to choose loose-fitting clothing when possible. When a fabric is stretched tight across your skin, the fibres are stretched too - allowing those harmful rays through. And remember, any exposed skin can burn, so the more you can cover, the better off you’ll be. That’s why you’ll often find UPF rated long sleeved shirts and pants.
Like with SPF, what you’re doing while in the sun can affect your level of protection from UV rays. Clothing that is wet or stretched can affect the weave of the fabric, and thus lose some of its protective properties.
The factors above can make clothing sun-protective whether or not the manufacturer has tested and applied a UPF rating. But, a UPF rating can give an extra sense of security in knowing for sure that the item of clothing offers protection. The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation offers extra assurance.
Need one final detail to convince you of the benefits of UV-protective clothing? There’s no need to reapply over and over through the day, like with your sunscreen! So, get on your UPF clothing, and go out and play in the sun!
There’s nothing worse than a bad burn ruining your adventure on the water or on a sunny trail. Plan ahead with a good quality sunscreen and clothing to protect your skin, and enjoy some fun in the sun all year round.