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UPF Clothing 101

Published: 2021-07-07T21:15:23+0000 Author: Abby Helgeson

As we all know the sun releases ultraviolet (UV) rays that are harmful to our skin. This can lead to annoying sunburns, premature skin aging and, in the worst cases, skin cancer. Sunscreen can only do so much and is often an afterthought. That’s why wearing clothing that absorbs or blocks the sun's rays is one of the best ways to prevent these problems from occurring. Luckily UPF clothing is here to save the day! But what exactly is UPF clothing? Let’s break it down.

What does UPF mean?

UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor. Each piece of UPF apparel has different ratings that block a certain percentage of UV rays. For example, a t-shirt with a UPF rating of 50, blocks 98% percent of UV rays, and only allows for 2% UV transmission. UPF clothing is basically clothing that has “built in sunscreen” in the fabric. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, clothing with a UPF rating of 30 to 49 offers very good protection, while clothing with 50+ UPF is excellent. However, in order to have the Skin Cancer Foundation’s seal of recommendation, the fabric must have a rating of at least 30. The lowest level of UPF protection is 15, anything under that is not considered sun protective.

UPF Rating Protective Category UV Transmission (%)
15-29 Good 6.7-3.4
30-49 Very Good 3.3-2.1
50+ Excellent 2.0 or less

Here are some examples of UPF products and their specific ratings:

What's the difference between UPF and SPF?

SPF and UPF are alike in the sense that the higher the rating, the more protection you get. The main difference is that UPF clothing blocks out both UVA and UVB rays, while SPF from sunscreen only blocks UVB rays. For extra protection, it is best to use both UPF and SPF at the same time. A piece of clothing with a UPF rating of 50 stops 1/50th of the sun's rays from reaching your skin, similar to an SPF 50 sunscreen.

Does regular clothing protect you from the sun?

Yes, but since there are all sorts of clothing and fabrics out there, not all of them offer the same amount of protection. The color of your clothing can affect how much or how little protection you have against ultraviolet rays. The darker the color, the more UV protection it offers. Dark reds, navy blues, and black colors absorb the most UV rays. Lighter colors like white, pale yellows, or pastels offer less protection. If you are concerned about getting sunburnt, as weird as it may be, you can always apply sunscreen under your t-shirt for extra protection.

Factors to Be Aware Of

  • Fabric wetness: Wet fabrics decrease the amount of UPF protection. For example, a white t-shirt has a UPF rating of about 5, but when wet the rating goes down to 3.
  • Fit: The more stretchy the fabric, the less protective it is. Looser fit clothing is a much better option since it will not stretch out when worn.
  • Composition: Synthetic fabrics do a better job of protecting against UV rays. Materials like polyester and rayon will better protect you than fabrics like cotton and wool.

How do I fully protect my skin from UV rays?

Although UPF clothing can do a great job at protecting you from the sun, sometimes it just isn’t enough. To ensure you are fully protected, be sure to follow these steps:

  1. Wear UPF clothing or clothing with dark colors.
  2. Apply a high SPF sunscreen every two hours, if possible.
  3. Wear a hat, preferably one that is tightly woven and has a brim of at least three inches.
  4. Hangout in the shade: UV rays are the strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. so be sure to seek shade when possible during these times.
  5. Cover up: Long sleeves and pants are the best way to ensure your skin isn’t affected by the sun’s rays, although it may not be your best bet in the scorching heat.
  6. Wear sunglasses: Sunglasses with a 100% UV protection label are best.

Commonly Asked Questions Regarding UPF Clothing

Q. Does UPF wash out of clothing?
A. Just like any piece of clothing, UPF clothing will become worn down naturally, stretching out the fibers in the fabric and lowering the rating. But you won’t ‘wash out’ the UPF in your piece of clothing. However, to avoid lowering the UPF rating, you can do a few things:

  • Don't use bleach on the fabric since it can damage the fibers
  • Don't wring out your UPF apparel after washing.
  • Wash your clothing in cold water since warm water will likely shrink the fabric and lower the UPF rating.
Q. How long does UV protective clothing last?
A. Like any typical piece of clothing, it will eventually break down with frequent use, but, with proper care, they usually last around two or three years.
Q. Is UPF better than SPF?

Neither is necessarily ‘better’, as UPF applies to clothing and SPF applies to sunscreen. SPF blocks only UVB rays, while UPF provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Both will block out 98% of UV rays with a rating of 50. It is recommended to use both UPF clothing and SPF sunscreen for the best results.

Although we all want to be protected from the sun’s harmful rays, covering up head to toe during the summer is very impractical. That is unless you really enjoy being drenched in sweat. UPF clothing allows you to be comfortable, stay well protected from the sun, and to choose the amount of protection you get. Made with lightweight materials that offer thorough protection, you won’t have to break a sweat just to avoid a nasty sunburn. So, what are you waiting for? Browse our selection of UPF clothing and keep your skin nice and healthy, starting today!


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