One of the best barriers between your skin and the sun is clothing, so try to cover as much skin as possible. Long pants and shirts with a collar and long sleeves are best.
What to look for when choosing sun protective clothing
Not all clothing fabric is equal. Look for a swing tag with a high ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating to be sure. The UPF rating provides information on how much UV radiation will pass through unstretched, dry material. Any fabric rated above UPF15 provides good protection against UV radiation, but UPF50+ is recommended. Sun-protective clothing provides protection by absorbing and reflecting UV radiation that strikes the surface of the fabric and by covering as much of the body as possible.
Most fabrics will however provide some protection from the sun regardless of if they are UPF rated or not. Try to choose fabric structures, colours and other characteristics that increase protection including:
- Fabric structure: The tighter the fabric structure, whether knitted or woven, the better the sun protection. As the fibres of tightly woven fabrics are closer together, less UV radiation is able to pass through to the skin. Tightly woven, lightweight natural fabrics such as linen, cotton or hemp will also help keep you cooler than synthetic fibre equivalents.
- Tension: If a fabric is stretched, it will be less protective. This is common in knitted or elasticised fabrics. Take care to select the correct size for the wearer or if wearing extensible fabrics choose fabric structures and colours that provide greater protection to offset the effect of the stretch.
- Layering: Layering of fabrics and garments is an effective way of increasing protection from UV.
- Colour: Many dyes absorb UV radiation. Darker colours (black, navy and dark red) of the same fabric type will absorb more UV radiation than light pastel shades (white, sky blue and light green). Choose darker colours if possible.
- Moisture content: Fabrics offer less protection from UV radiation when wet. How much less protection will depend on the type of fabric and the amount of moisture it absorbs. To reduce the effect of the moisture, take dry clothes to change into or if dipping in and out of the water, choose a fabric that provides effective protection from UV and that will dry quickly.
- Caring for your clothes: Washing new clothes can improve their sun protection, especially when made of natural fibres such as cotton, by shrinking gaps in the structure. However, old, threadbare or faded clothes may offer decreased protection over time.
- UV absorbers: Some clothing is treated so it can absorb more UV radiation. Check the clothing label to see if your clothes have been treated and ensure you follow the care instructions.
Never just rely on clothing alone for sun protection. During the daily sun protection times (when the UV Index is 3 and above), combine sun-protective clothing with SPF30 or higher sunscreen, a broad-brimmed hat that protects the face, head, neck and ears, shade and sunglasses.