About Sun Protective Clothing

woman on a boat wearing sun protective clothing

Whether you’re hiking the trails or fishing on the open water, it’s important to protect your skin from the sun. Applying sunscreen is essential, but people often forget that clothing is one of the most powerful defenses against UV radiation. Our Experts explain how sun protective clothing works and important features to look for so you can pick the perfect outdoor wardrobe. Remember, sun protective clothing is great for year-round wear because it doesn’t have to be hot for the sun to damage your skin.

UPF vs SPF: What is the Difference?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is used to measure the effectiveness of sunscreens. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and is used to measure the effectiveness of sun protective fabrics. Those are not the only differences—UPF provides protection against both UVA and UVB ray while SPF protects against only UVB rays, unless stated as ‘broad spectrum’. 

The SPF number represents how long it will take your skin to redden when exposed to the sun’s radiation. For example, SPF 15 will keep your skin from getting red 15 times longer than without sunscreen. If it typically take 10 minutes for your skin to redden, SPF 15 will protect you for 150 minutes.

The UPF number represents the amount of radiation a fabric lets through. For example, UPF 50 only allows 1/50th of UV radiation to reach your skin. In general, you should look for a UPF of 30+ with UPF 50+ being the best choice.

How Does Sun Protective Clothing Work?

a father and son wearing sun protective clothing in the water

All clothing provides some level of protection from the sun, but not all fabrics and colors protect you the same. The most important factors to consider when choosing the most effective sun protective clothing are the color, fabric, fit, and coverage.

Can You Get Sunburn Through Clothes?

Yes! The sun is strong enough to expose your skin to radiation through your clothes. That’s why it’s so important to choose clothing with the proper construction and coverage.

Color: Choose clothing in dark or bright colors as they absorb more sunlight. Clothing in lighter shades is easier for UV radiation to penetrate.

Fabric: Look for densely-woven fabrics—like denim and canvas—that let through as little light as possible. Shiny and satiny fabrics also provide some protection as they reflect radiation. Another important consideration is if the fabric has any added UPF. Look for UPF labels indicating the amount of protection a garment provides.

Coverage: Covering your skin provides extra protection against UV radiation. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants may seem counterintuitive on sunny days, but with the right fabrics, clothing with extra coverage can help you stay cool and dry by wicking away sweat and keeping your skin shaded.

Important Note: Wetness, wear, and tear can reduce the effectiveness of UPF clothing, so it’s important to replace your gear often and combine sun protective clothing with sunscreen and sun accessories.

Choosing the proper sun protective clothing will let you enjoy your time in the sun without damaging your skin. Once you have the right rotation of UPF clothing, you can relax and spend more time outside. If you’re getting ready to spend some time outdoors, check our our Expert guide for How to Dress for Hot & Humid Weather.