Don’t get burned!
*This article has been updated in 2020 for accuracy
I love to be outdoors, especially when the sun comes out, but too much sun is harmful. Sunscreen can be toxic and is often sticky or greasy. The solution? Clothing that offers sun protection. Don’t roll your eyes. There is a new generation of sun protective clothing that looks crisp, comes in attractive colors and holds up over many washings. Oh, and it actually protects your skin from the rays.
Most people are familiar with the Sun Protective Factor (SPF) which is a rating for the strength of sunscreens and indicates how long you can stay in the sun before your skin will be burned. Sun protective clothing can be rated by its Ultraviolet Protective Factor (UPF) which is a measure of the amount of UVA and UVB radiation which can get through the fabric and burn your skin. A shirt with a UPF of 50, for example, allows just 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin.
Here are some considerations when choosing sun protective clothing.
Choose long sleeve shirts and collars over garments with less coverage. Clothing can only protect the skin it covers.
Avoid loose weaves. Tightly woven fabrics keep out more rays than relaxed textures.
Learn to love synthetics. I know that we all favor cotton and linen but when it comes to sun protection, synthetic fibers (such as polyester and rayon) offer the greatest sun protection. Glossy fabrics reflect more UV rays away from the skin than matte fabrics like linen. Refined and bleached cottons offer the least protection. When cotton gets wet, its UPF is reduced. A wet white summer cotton T-shirt has a UPF of only 3 or 4. Sorry.
Favor royal blue and red. Dark or bright colors absorb more UV rays than white or pastel shades – this is a good thing. More damaging rays are stopped before they reach the skin. The more intense the hue, the better the UV defense.
Several companies have specialized in sun protective clothing and other top sport and fashion brands are adding these products to their lines. Sun Precautions was founded in 1992 by a woman who survived melanoma and wanted to protect her skin and as well as everyone else’s. She developed the Solumbra material with an SPF rating of 100+. Since SPF rating is used for sunscreen, I wrote to the company to ask how their SPF of 100+ compares to a UPF of 50+ for clothing. They claim to offer the best sun protection. Here is their answer.
“UPF clothing is traditionally tested indoors using artificial light and other laboratory testing methods, whereas Solumbra products are tested in natural sunlight as well as simulated sunlight, and they are tested on real human skin.
The fact that we test on human skin allows us to give an SPF rating to our products. The tight weave of our Solumbra fabric gives all day 100+ SPF protection without having to apply (or reapply) sunscreen. Solumbra blocks 98% of UVA and UVB rays.”
You can read additional information on their website:
Coolibar fabric is used in a range of sun protective clothing which is all rated 50+ UPF. Consumer Reports tested sun protective clothing, including Coolibar. The girl’s shirt they rated promised a UPF of 50+ and delivered a UPF of 174. It sounds like we can trust the brand. Consumer Reports.
Here are some of my favorite styles for women:
The Solumbra Women’s Beach Tunic has a pretty pattern, a front yoke, and the sleeves are tapered with slightly flared cuffs. Underarm mesh adds coolness. 100+ SPF. $99.95
The Solumbra Women’s Resort Tunic has a mandarin collar, pintucked detailing, elastic cuffs, and underarm mesh. 100+SPF. It comes in four colors for $99.95.
The Solumbra Women’s Seychelles Beach Tunic does not look like ‘protective clothing’. It has an underarm mesh for cooling. 100+ SPF. $119.95
This Mott 50 long sleeve t-shirt comes in eleven colors and patterns. 95% Rayon, 5% Spandex. Imported. UPF 50 Luxe fabric. Hand covers for added sun protection. Machine wash cold. Line/Hang Dry.
UVSkinz Classic Water Jacket is quick drying. In 7 colors many sizes, for $62.
Body Glove’s Smoothies Sleek Rashguard line which includes UV50 protection. This shirt is $30.
These shirts from Coolibar are great. I have worn several of them in the intense sun without burning. They are rated UPF 50+ and washable.
This Coolibar Women’s Travel Shirt is loose, but has some shape. Ventilation panels under arms and along sides add cool. Roll up sleeves with button tabs, small zip pocket at princess seam. In four colors from $59.99 – $75.99.
The Coolibar Women’s Sun Shirt has ventilation panels under arms and along sides. In seven colors for $69.99 – $89.50.
This Coolibar Women’s Long Sleeve Performance Polo is soft with a lightweight, wicking, fabric. UPF 50+. In seven colors and style $85.00 – $95.00.
Coolibar’s Women’s Swim Shirt comes in four colors for $89.50.
This REI Sahara Women’s Long-Sleeve Shirt is comfortable and lightweight. I used the light tan version in Africa. The lightweight polyester fabric offers UPF 35+ protection; sun collar folds up to extend your coverage. Sun cuffs unfold to cover backs of hands. It is cooling with a large mesh-lined vent at the back yoke, plus a zippered, mesh-lined vent on each side seam; 2 zippered vents on the chest double as shallow mesh pockets. There is a zip document pocket hidden under the front placket. Seam-free shoulder design prevents abrasion under pack straps. It comes in four colors for $59.95.
Coolibar wants to protect your legs with these soft, lightweight Beach Pants. Wide-cut straight leg, 31″ Inseam. In 4 colors for $69.99 – $79.99.