How to Choose Sun Protection or UPF Rated Clothing
With the weather getting warmer most people will be outside enjoying the sunshine. That means more UV exposure and more reasons to look at ways to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging effects. Most of us have grown up being educated on the benefits of sunscreen but did you know what you wear can also help to reduce sunburn, UV related skin aging and cancer?
What We'll Cover
- Who can benefit most from choosing sun protective clothing
- How SPF differs to UPF
- How to use the UPF classification system
- Factors that enhance and reduce UPF protection
Why What You Wear Matters
First and foremost moderation in outdoor exposure is always the best first line of defence. However, while you’re out there enjoying the sun you can choose clothing designed to offer sun protection and which has been tested for UPF or Ultraviolet Protection Factor.
Who Benefits Most from UPF Clothing
If you’re into outdoor yoga, SUP yoga, hiking, running or anything else outdoors the UPF protection level of your clothing is particularly worth considering if you’re fair-skinned, take medications that increase sun sensitivity or are in areas where summer means intense UV exposure. Children as well should be given careful consideration as over-exposure at a young age can lead to a higher risk of skin cancer later in life.
What’s the Difference Between SPF and UPF?
The terminology surrounding sun protection clothing differs from what you’re likely used to. SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is the industry standard for sunscreen products applied to the skin. UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) is still a relatively new industry standard and applies specifically to fabrics. It’s worth noting that while SPF refers to UVB protection only unless your skin cream is described as a broad-spectrum sunscreen, UPF measures protection against both UVA and UVB.
UVA rays are longer penetrating deeper into the skin and reach the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer underneath the epidermis. UVB rays are shorter and usually burn the superficial layers. UVA is most responsible for premature skin aging and wrinkling while UVB is the main cause of sunburn and the primary cause of skin cancer.
A system therefore that measures both UVA and UVB protection for what we wear is particularly important if you lead an active lifestyle in the summer. From hiking to outdoor running to spending time on paddle boards where UVB can bounce off water the UPF system helps you plan, prepare and protect.
The UPF Rating System and How to Use It
The UV protection level apparel provides is labeled as Good, Very Good or Excellent. Each of these levels affords a different range of UV protection measuring both UVA and UBV protection. The UBF system does not go lower than good because UPF of less than 15 is not considered UV-protective. Lightweight cotton will be around UPF 5 and even if you’re fully covered it will not prevent sunburn for longer periods of UV exposure as 20% of UV will pass through the fabric.
While covered is always better than not for outdoor activities considering the UPF protection level of your clothing will help to prevent sunburn and long term damage. Our recycled poly and recycled nylon is classed as UBF Excellent.
UPF Rating Guide
Factors that Increase UPF Protection
Fiber Type: Nylon and polyester recycled or otherwise are superior to cotton, silk, wool, rayon or hemp in terms of UPF protectiveness. This is due in part to their denser weave that permits fewer UV rays to penetrate. A thicker, heavier cotton such as denim will block more UV transmission than lightweight cotton knit as well.
Color: Darker and/or more vibrant colors absorb more UV rays than paler colors
Treatments: Chemicals and dyes can also be added the fabric production to enhance UV-protective ability.
Factors that Reduce UV Protection
Wetness: Generally speaking wet fabrics will allow more UV to pass through the fabric which is why quick-dry fabrics perform best. There are variations, however, e.g. studies have suggested polyester UV-protectiveness actually increases when wet. Linen and viscose have also demonstrated increased UV-protectiveness when wet.
Fabric treatments: Some apparel gets its UPF rating primarily from treatments applied which fade and eventually disappear with laundering.
Fading: Colors that fade with washing will eventually mean increased UV transmission as colors being to lighten.
Stretching: Overstretching of fabrics can lead to increased UV transmission particularly for looser fabric weaves.
Tips for Choosing Sun Protection Clothing
UPF Ratings: Look for apparel with UPF ratings. If you intend on longer periods of outdoor exposure or getting wet try to find apparel rated UPF Excellent.
Fabric type: Denser weaves like nylon or polyester including recycled alternatives offer some of the best protection.
Fabric treatments: The best choice is the one that doesn’t rely solely on fabric treatments to achieve it’s UPF rating as these will wash out. Watch for disclaimers that list this feature.
Quick-dry: Fabrics that dry quicker will offer improved UBF protection as wetness can impact on UV-protectiveness
Color: Darker or more vibrant colors generally perform better than paler colors for sun protection.
Finally, don’t forget that while UPF rated apparel is one tool for protecting yourself outdoors they can’t replace general good sun-sense. Don't forget to wear sunglasses, seek shade, wear hats and remember to wear your sunscreen.
Have a sun-safe and happy summer season! ☀️