Expert Advice: How to Choose Sun Protection (UPF) Clothing
clothingSeptember 6, 2018
So many of us enjoy spending our free time in the sun. It’s one of the many reasons why people love spring and summer. They feel the warm heat on their bodies and the sun’s energy.
Before the summer season ends, we try to get in as much sun as possible, however, like all good things, it has to be done in moderation. We’re aware that the sun has powerful UV radiation that can expose us to sunburn, skin cancer, and premature ageing.
To prevent that, we lather on the sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and have hats resting on our heads. However, we never think about our clothing and how they interact with the sun.
What many of us don’t know, is that there’s clothing specifically designed to protect us from the sun. This is special clothing which has been tested in order to show its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF).
The UPF will provide you with greater control against UV exposure. In this article, we’re going to talk about the importance of UPF clothing, what it means, what to look out for and how to enhance protection against the sun. Keep on reading!
Why wear UPF clothing?
You may be thinking that sunscreen is enough, but, now with the ever-changing climate and decreasing ozone layer, it’s not. More people are getting sunburnt in cloudy weather which means we’re needing better protection against the sun. This is where UPF clothing plays a vital role as they act as another layer of defence.
9 Important Health Facts about Skin Health
90% of non-melanoma skin cancers are correlated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
On a typical day, regular use of SPF 15 or higher will reduce the risk of skin cancer by approximately 40%.
People who use sunscreen on a daily basis, SPF 15 or higher, show 24% less ageing than those who do not wear sunscreen on a daily basis.
Approximately 90% of skin ageing can be attributed to sun exposure.
One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
More than 90% of Americans have a vitamin D deficiency.
15 minutes a day of direct sunlight exposure can provide you with your daily dose of vitamin D.
Women who tan indoors with tanning beds are six times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma cancer in their 20s than those who have never used a tanning bed.
Sun damage is cumulative.
These health facts can be pretty alarming, especially if you haven’t been paying attention to protecting yourself from the sun. So, who benefits from sun protection such as UPF clothing?
Who benefits from UPF clothing?
Now, you may be wondering who can benefit from wearing UPF clothing? Yes, UPF clothing provides you with extra protection, however, why isn’t sunscreen enough?
Well, these are all good questions that are going to be answered now. Of course, UPF clothing can help everyone, however, UPF clothing is especially helpful for people that risk UV-related health conditions:
Children: In comparison to adults, children naturally have thinner skin, making them more sensitive to the sun. If a child is damaged by the sun at a young age, it can increase their likelihood of serious sun-related conditions later in life.
Individuals on medication: While on medication, sun sensitivity can increase depending on the medication an individual is taking. Medications include antibiotics, acne treatment, antihistamines and some anti-inflammatories. It’s important that you make sure you read the information regarding your medication and the side effects of sun exposure.
Sun-sensitive people: Many people are sensitive to the sun. As the ozone layer deteriorates, the sun’s rays become stronger. People with light skin are more prone to UV rays in comparison to darker skin tones.
Individuals in high elevations, snow, or water: When in high elevations, for example, the mountains, the intensity of the sun is much greater than at lower levels.
You now know who benefits the most from wearing UPF clothing, however, that doesn’t mean people without sun sensitivity cannot wear UPF clothing. As the sun intensifies, people should opt for UPF clothing for extra protection.
The Positive Effects of the Sun
Now, we have to start by saying that the sun isn’t all bad. The sun has many benefits as sunlight is essential for all of us. Of course, this article is about protecting us from the sun’s UV rays, however, let’s not put too much negativity against the sun. Here are some of the most positive effects of the sun.
Relieves stress: In today’s world, we’re all stressed out. Everyone experiences different levels of stress due to various reasons such as work, family, and health. If you want to reduce stress in multiple ways, while out in the sun, take your dog for a walk, sunbathe, exercise, or have an ice cream. The point is, you need to make sure you stay 15 minutes in the sun.
Enhances your mood: If you need to brighten your day, go out in the sun. The sun provides us with a major benefit as it can enhance our mood. This answers your question as to why people in the spring and summer are at their happiest. Daylight not only makes us feel better and more energetic, it also increases serotonin levels which aid with mood.
Natural source of vitamin D: You probably already know this, but vitamin D is used to maintain bone strength in us. One of the natural ways to use vitamin D is through the ultraviolet light that’s in sunlight. However, this doesn’t mean you need to spend the entire day in the sun in order to get your daily dose of vitamin D. Instead, you only actually need 15 minutes of sun exposure for your daily levels of vitamin D.
Improves sleep: Though you may not know this, sunlight actually influences the amount of melatonin your brain produces. In turn, melatonin then tells your brain when it needs to get some sleep. When the sun goes down, your body starts to produce melatonin, indicating that you’ll be falling asleep in the next two hours. However, modern technology has changed how our brain reacts as we’re exposed to artificial light. This is a contributing factor to insomnia.
Treats seasonal depression: For some people, the lack of sunlight during the winter season can leave them feeling low and depressed. Seasonal depression is characterized by overeating, tiredness, oversleeping, bad moods, and difficulty making and keeping friends. Seasonal depression is rare during the warmer months.
So yes, there are great advantages to sunlight, however, there are also harmful effects if you’re spending too much time in the sun. Remember, everything in moderation!
The Harmful Effects of the Sun
Like we said, the sun is good but it also can be dangerous. We all know this, hence why you’re reading this. You’re looking for UPF protective clothing. Now, we all know about sunburn as a result of too much sun exposure, however, there are other common conditions which can occur from extreme sun exposure.
Heat exhaustion: This is when the body loses excessive water and salt, which usually occurs through sweating. The symptoms include dizziness, thirst, heavy sweating, headaches, and nausea. If left untreated, this can lead to heatstroke.
Heatstroke: Now, if heat exhaustion is left untreated, it can turn into heat stroke. This is an extremely serious heat-related condition and could potentially be fatal. Heat stroke causes the body’s temperature to quickly increase, reaching high temperatures within minutes. The symptoms usually include loss of consciousness, confusion, seizures, and sweating.
Eye damage: We always tend to forget about our eyes and their contact with the sun. Long-term exposure to the ultraviolet light can cause damage to the retina which is the area where the images are sent to the brain. Sun damage to the eyes can also cause cataracts to develop which are cloudy bumps around the cornea which leads to blindness.
Heat rash: Many of us have experienced a heat rash before during the hot summer months. A heat rash is caused when your sweat ducts trap moisture under the skin. If the weather is hot and humid, that makes a perfect combination for a heat rash. You’ll notice a heat rash as they’ll look like a bundle of red pimples or blisters. They typically are formed in skin folds such as your armpits, elbows, neck, and groin area.
Sunburn: It’s safe to say that most of us have experienced a sunburn or two in our day. You may not notice your sunburn until a couple of hours after sun exposure. Sunburn is caused when ultraviolet light penetrates the skin. Typically, sunburn is painful, red, and swollen with flu-like symptoms. This is usually the most commonly seen negative factor of the sun, however, it’s not.
Skin cancer: This is the worst development from excessive sun exposure. However, this is typically a consequence of long-term sun exposure and takes years to develop.
Premature ageing: If you’re young this may not be seen as an issue to you, however, in five years, you’ll wish you wore your sunscreen. Premature ageing can be caused by a number of factors, however, sun exposure is a major contributor to premature ageing. UV rays from the sun damage the collagen and elastic tissue in your skin, thus, making it fragile and unable to “bounce back”. As a result, your skin starts to sag. You may experience white cysts and blackheads on your cheekbones as well which is caused by sun exposure. Ageing spots can also be contributed to sun exposure.
Of course, none of these health conditions sounds like fun. However, you can reduce your chances of encountering them by taking the proper steps to protect yourself with UPF clothing and sunscreen.
Are you at Risk from the Sun?
After reading who would benefit from UPF clothing, you may be asking yourself if you’re at risk of developing sun-related conditions even if you’re not a huge outdoor enthusiast. However, it’s important to know that no one is risk-free. There are individuals who are more prone to developing skin conditions. Ask yourself these three questions.
Do I have a family history of skin conditions such as melanoma? Around 5 - 10% of people with skin conditions such as melanoma had it throughout their family.
Am I a woman under the age of 40? Men are at a higher risk for specific skin cancers, however, women under 40 prove to be more prone to contracting sun related-skin conditions such as skin cancer.
Do I have light hair and fair skin? Those with light eyes and fair skin are more prone to sun-related skin conditions.
But don’t let this scare you. Since you’re reading this, you’re ready to take the proper steps in making sure your skin is well protected from the sun. For UPF garments, it’s important to understand how the rating system works and what you need to look for.
Now that you know about the importance of wearing UPF clothing, you’re probably wondering what it even means. Knowing that UPF clothing is essential doesn’t mean anything unless you understand how it works.
The UPF rating system is used for garments and works similar to Sun Protection Factor (SPF) which is used for sunscreen products. Though, SPF is used only to rate the effectiveness of sunscreen against UVB rays. UVB rays are considered to be highly dangerous and damaging. UPF, on the other hand, ensures that the garment’s fabric provides protection against both UVA and UVB light.
When looking for UPF clothing, they’ll show a number rating which will identify the level of protection the garment provides.
||Level of Protection
||Effective UV Transmission (%)
||6.7 - 4.2
|25, 30, 35
||4.1 - 2.6
|40, 45, 50, 50+
||Less than 2.5
But what does all of this mean? Let us explain. A UPF rating of 25 illustrates, which is around 4%, of the fabric will allow 1/25th of UV radiation to pass through. If a garment has a rating of UPF 50, this illustrates that 1/50th, around 2% of the fabric will allow UV radiation to pass through. If a garment allows less than 2% of UV to pass through, it will be labelled UPF 50+.
If you’re questioning why there’s not UPF available below UPF 15, that’s because anything under UPF 15 isn’t UV-protective.
A basic white t-shirt offers UPF 5 protection which means it allows 20% of UV radiation to pass through. Clearly, this isn’t enough protection from the sun. But this also shows you that just because a garment isn’t labelled with a UPF rating, doesn’t mean it isn’t protecting you from the sun.
There are some garments which offer exceptional UPF protection, however, aren’t labelled. For example, a dark pair of jeans can provide you with UPF 50+ protection. Thus, all you need to know is how to dress smartly when you’re outside in the sun. So, how do you shop for UPF clothing?
When you’re shopping for UPF garments, though the product will indicate the level of UPF protection offered, it’s important to know what companies consider when constructing UPF protected clothing. In case the clothing isn’t UPF rated, look at these factors which often determine the level of protection.
Fiber type: When it comes to material, the best UV protective ones are typically elastane fibers such as Lycra or Spandex. Additionally, wool and polyester also offer good UV protection, however, nylon and cotton are not ideal.
||Level of Protection
|Lycra and Spandex
|Wool and Polyester
|Cotton, nylon, hemp, flax, and rayon
Density: The tightness of the weave or knit in a garment is a great indicator of how well it’ll block out the sun’s UV rays. Naturally, the tighter the fabric, the fewer UV rays will penetrate through the material.
Color: The darker the color, the better UV protection the garment will provide you. This is because dark colors absorb more UV rays in comparison to lighter ones. Most of our clothing is dyed for aesthetic purposes. The more vivid the color, the higher the level of protection it offers. For example, a bright blue shirt offers more protection than a light blue shirt. However, even a light blue shirt can offer protection depending on its weave and material. In addition, many white fabrics include an “optical whitening agent” which is a chemical compound that aids in absorbing UVR rays.
Treatments: There are chemicals and dyes which can be added to the garments in order to enhance the level of UPF protection. They act by absorbing UV light. Thus, if you’re wanting to buy a cotton shirt, which scales low on UPF protection, with the proper dye or chemical treatment, it could provide you with sufficient protection. For example, optical whitening agents for white garments are added for UVR protection.
Wear: The number of times you wash and wear your clothing also impact its level of protection. If your clothing is faded, stretched out, and heavily worn, then it’s not going to offer you much protection from the sun. In addition, if your clothing is wet, it also reduces its level of protection.
Construction: The construction of the garment is extremely important when pertaining to UPF protection. Loose-fitting clothing will provide you with more protection than tight-fitting clothing. In addition, lined clothing will also provide you with more protection and clothing with less stretch will also block out more UV rays as well.
You know what enhances UPF protection in garments, however, do you know what reduces them? There are a couple of things you need to be aware of when looking for UPF clothing. Keep these factors in mind when looking for protective garments:
Fabric stretch: Stretched fabric can lose a large amount of its UPF protection, while at the same time if the fabric is too tight, it also works against you as well.
Fabric wetness: For a large number of materials, once they become wet, their level of UPF protection drops significantly. Though, it’s been found that polyester proves to protect users better when wet in comparison to other fabrics. To reduce the amount of moisture in your garments, make sure that you change from wet clothes. In addition, choose fabrics which dry quickly.
Fabric wear: The more you wear a garment, the more worn it becomes. Now, this isn’t a bad thing, however, if you’re looking for UPF protection, this does make the fabric less effective in regards to UPF protection.
Here’s the thing, with some of these UPF reductions, they’re inevitable. Of course, you’re going to wash your clothes, you can’t keep your clothing unwashed in order to protect yourself from the sun.
Keep washing your clothes, but, keep in mind that the way you wash your clothes can either increase or decrease the UPF protection. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Check the garments UPF rating: Some UPF protective materials are coated with a protective finish. However, this finish isn’t lasting forever. As the finish washes out, the UPF protection reduces. But, on the label of the garment, if it comes with a UPF rating, it will clearly state the number of washes the finish is good for.
Detergents including brighteners: Many detergents include a brightener which will enhance the UPF in your garment. However, there’s no way to know if your specific detergent is working to enhance the UPF rating in your garment.
Shrinkage: If your garment, after a washing, shrinks, this means that the weave became tighter. When the weave of a material is tighter, it offers higher UPF protection in comparison to loose weaves.
Garments which include inherent fabric properties: If your garment is made of inherent UPF material then it should be relatively unaffected by washing it. Naturally, the only thing that can diminish the UPF rating, in this case, is if the material becomes heavily worn out of faded.
UPF Clothing Features
When you’re at the store, you need to look for specific clothing features which aid with providing you UPF protection. These features are exactly the things you should be looking for when buying UPF clothing. Remember, these features will help keep your skin well protected from the sun.
A loose cut: You want to make sure that the clothing you choose is lightly fitted on your body. But this doesn’t mean you should opt for something that is stretchable. A garment that is stretchable will become significantly less protective against UV light. So, make sure that your clothing sits loosely and comfortably.
Quick-drying fabrics: Naturally, the amount of moisture that a fabric holds will reduce the level of protection it provides you against the sun. Thus, if you want to ensure your fabric is protecting you, choose a fabric that either dries quickly or make sure you change out of your wet clothes. Do know, the quicker a material dries, the faster it’ll go back to its full UPF rating.
Extended coverage: Most of us, when it comes to warm weather, we’re wearing as little as possible. We don’t want to be covered in clothes when the weather is nice and warm. However, if you’re concerned about the sun, then you’ll want to be slightly more covered. Some shirts offer flip-up collars while other garments are designed with cuffs which provide you with protection around your hands. Hats are also another great accessory to wear which come in an array of designs. Opt for hats which have broad rims and neck capes for extra protection.
Vents: You’ll want your garments to have tight weaves as that’ll reduce the number of UV rays. Thick fabrics and extended coverage are also a good option as well. However, you need to remember that the combination of all three can create some heat underneath so make sure that the garments have ventilation.
Though you have UPF clothing, this isn’t the only thing that you’re going to need in order to protect you from the sun. If you want complete coverage, it will require you to approach this from many angles. For full sun protection, here are the other things you need:
Whenever possible, seek shaded spaces. This is ideally the best way to be fully protected by the sun. Get out of the sun’s rays.
Make sure you’re wearing UV-protective clothing whenever outside, in contact with the sun.
Wear sunglasses which provide you with full 100% UV-ray protection.
Make sure you apply sunscreen with a high rating of SPF, preferably above SPF 30. Apply sunscreen to your entire body, especially to the areas which are exposed to the sun.
Be mindful of cloudy days, as they also provide you with filtered sun. This form of sun can also damage your skin.
You need to monitor the amount of time you’re exposed to the sun as this makes you vulnerable to UV radiation. If possible, stay out of the sun during its peak hours which are 9 am to 3 pm.
DIY UPF Clothing
Not everyone has the budget to afford specifically produced UPF protective clothing. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot be protected from the sun.
Naturally, you’ll be wearing sunscreen, but knowing that the sun is becoming stronger with each passing day, you also need extra protection. When you’re at the store, there are a couple of things you can look for that will allow you to create your own DIY UPF clothing.
Focus on clothing which suits your needs. If you’re going to the beach, you don’t need a heavy, long-sleeved shirt as that may cause a heat rash or heat exhaustion. Though you want to be protected, make sure you’re not opting for heavy fabrics on warm days. You can opt for a long-sleeved shirt, minus the heavy fabric.
Make sure you purchase the proper size. It can be a loosely fitted garment, however, if it’s too tight, it’ll stretch out which will make it lose its UPF rating.
There’s no point in a UPF bikini. If you want to properly protect your skin then you should choose garments which cover your skin. Wear a swim guard or swim shirt when at the beach. They’re lightweight and made of protective, yet, breathable material such as spandex.
Always wear a wide-brimmed hat which will not only cover your head but also the back of your neck which is typically forgotten.
Don’t be concerned about your UPF clothing not being fashionable. There are many options to choose from when looking for protective clothing. You can wear a long skirt or sarong to the beach and still be trendy.
Other Sun Protection
Clothing cannot be the only form of sun protection, right? You’re right! There are other forms of sun protection that you should use in partner with UPF clothing.
Wear sunscreen: Wear a sunscreen which offers you protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. Also, check to see if it’s water resistant and has an SPF of 30 or more. Anything under SPF 30 during sunny days will not be sufficient for full protection. Don’t go for the cheapest sunscreen, choose the highest quality instead.
Wear sunglasses: We can’t forget our eyes now. Choose a pair of sunglasses which offer full UV ray protection. If you don’t wear sunglasses, you open yourself to eye damage.
Don’t forget your lips: We always forget our lips but they’re always exposed directly to the sun. Use a lip balm or lipstick that contains at least an SPF of 30. This will provide your lips with the protection they need.
Limit your sun exposure: The easiest and most effective way to protect yourself from the sun is to stay out of it. When you can remove yourself from the sun as much as possible. Stay out of the sun during its strongest time between 9am to 3pm.
If you wear UPF clothing and incorporate with other methods of sun protection, then you’ll be well equipped to handle the sun.
Though the sun comes with plenty of benefits such as mood enhancement, vitamin D, and improved sleep, it’s important to know that too much sun can also be dangerous as well.
When it comes to the sun, like all good things, it should be taken in moderation. We all love basking in the sun when we get the chance, but, not all of us are properly protected while doing so. UPF clothing is great because they provide you with an extra layer of protection against harmful UV rays.
Of course, sunscreen helps immensely, but it also fades if not reapplied on a consistent basis. With UPF clothing, you’re able to protect your skin without thinking about it.
In this article, we’ve provided you with a complete rundown of everything you need in UPF clothing and other forms of sun protection. Follow our tips and suggestions for the best UPF clothing and you’ll be fully protected anywhere you go, whether you’re in the woods, beach, or mountains.
Now that you have your clothes sorted for your next sunny trek, how about a beach tent? Check out my guide to the best beach tents.