What is UV Protective Clothing?

Public health and commercial messaging in the United States emphasize the routine use of sunscreen for protection against sun damage to the skin and cancer prevention. However, using the improper amount of sunscreen or forgetting to apply sunscreen throughout the day may result in insufficient protection from the sun, causing sunburns and skin damage and increasing risk for skin cancer. Barrier methods against the sun’s strong rays, such as UV protective clothing, have been shown to be more effective than sunscreen in reducing sun exposure and decreasing the risk of sunburn.Just like in sunscreen, not all UV protective clothing provide equal protection or have the same ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). UPF is a measurement of how much UV radiation can reach your skin through a specific article of clothing. A UPF value range of 30 to 49 offers very good protection, while a UPF greater than 50 is excellent.2 UV protective clothing has a higher thread count than cotton, and generally feels like athletic wear.3 Here are several factors to consider when buying UV protective clothing.

Color. Choose dark or bright colors when selecting UV protective clothing. These hues absorb the sun’s UV rays better than lighter colors.2

Construction. Densely woven fabrics, such as polyester or silk, provide more protection than sheer materials like rayon. Sunlight can penetrate through micro holes in a cotton t-shirt. You can check a clothing’s sun safety by holding it up to a light.3 If you can see through it, UV radiation can easily penetrate the fabric and reach your skin.

Fit. Loose-fitting items are a better choice than stretchy, tight-fitting clothing. Fabrics that stretch allow clothing fibers to separate from each other, allowing more UV rays to pass through.2

Coverage. The greater the coverage, the greater the protection. Long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants are preferable to a tank top and shorts.

Activity. If UV protective clothing stretches or becomes wet, it will lose some of its protective ability, no matter its UPF.2

While UV protective clothing is an effective shield against UV rays, it is most effective when paired with other sun blocking gear. The best sun protection is multifaceted and includes a topical sunscreen product, a hat with a wide brim, protective clothing, and sunglasses.


  1. Linos E, Keiser E, Fu T, et al. Hat, shade, long sleeves, or sunscreen? Rethinking US sun protection messages based on their relative effectiveness. Cancer Causes Control. 2011;22(7):1067–1071.
  2. Sun-Protective Clothing: A Safe, Simple Way to
    Keep the Rays at Bay. The Skin Cancer Foundation website. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer- prevention/sun-protection/sun-protective- clothing/#:~:text=Ultraviolet%20Protection%20 Factor%20(UPF)%20indicates,reducing%20your%20 exposure%20risk%20significantly. Updated June 2019. Accessed June 3, 2020.
  3. Does Sun Protection Clothing Actually Work? Cleveland Clinic website. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/does- sun-protection-clothing-actually-work/. Updated June 21, 2020. Accessed June 3, 2020. NHR

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