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All About Sun Protective Clothing

Updated: Jan 15

Sunscreen and sunhat

What is UPF?

UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor and is the way in which protection from UVA and UVB rays is measured in fabric. A UPF of 50 means that only 1/50th of the sun's UVA and UVB rays penetrate through the fabric, thus blocking 98% of the sun's rays. Alternatively, SPF, which stands for sun protection factor, is the way sun protection is measured in sunscreen. If your unprotected skin usually turns red in 10 minutes, a sunscreen with an SPF 50 should protect your skin 50 times longer. The problem is that sunscreens lose their efficacy as the UV rays naturally break down their composition and as you sweat or get wet in water. So sunscreens need to be reapplied at least every 2 hours to maintain their efficacy.

Are all fabrics naturally sun protective?

Some fabrics do provide natural protection from UV rays. Such is the case with unbleached cotton that contains lignins that naturally absorb UV rays. However, bleached cotton, like a white T-shirt, provides sun protection equivalent to wearing a sunscreen with SPF 8. And when that bleached white cotton T-shirt gets wet, it acts like an SPF 4. Other fabrics, like shiny polyesters or nylons, reflect UV rays off of their surface as a means to prevent the sun's rays from penetrating the fabric. Thick, tightly-woven fabrics protect the skin because the rays cannot penetrate past the tight weave. But loosely woven and lightweight fabrics provide very little UV protection.

Dark fabrics naturally provide more UV protection than light ones. That is because dark fabrics absorb light (UV rays), while light (UV rays) bounce off of white and light colors and onto your skin.

What gives a fabric UPF protection?

Fabrics branded as UV protective are fabrics that are usually very tightly woven, reflective or treated with UV-protective agents during their manufacturing process. They usually provide UPF ratings of 30 or higher. It is important to know that UPF fabrics only last about one year or 30-40 washes. In fact, when any fabric, whether treated or untreated, is laundered repeatedly, its weave loosens and its UV-protective ability diminishes.

Are hats protective?

In my opinion, hats often give you a false sense of protection. Because your eyes might be shielded from the sun, the rest of your face, ears and neck might not be. And the head, ears, and neck regions have the highest incidence of the most common forms of skin cancer--basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Interestingly, more light than you might imagine bounces off the ground, especially off of light colored surfaces like concrete and sand. So, although you might be protected from some of the UV rays coming from above your hat, unless you are wearing sunscreen, you are not protected from the UV rays coming from beneath your hat as they bounce off the ground. Thus, it is important to always wear sunscreen when you are outdoors, even when you wear a hat. It is also important to wear hats with dark colors beneath the brim so that UV rays that do bounce off the ground get absorbed by that dark fabric under the brim rather than bounce off of it onto your face.

What is the best UPF clothing?

It is a matter of personal preference based on what activities you do outside, your personal style preference, fabric breathability, etc. I recommend going online to see what is available or going to an outdoor clothing store to try some on.

Are there other forms of UV protection besides sunscreen and sun protective clothing?

Yes. I recommend an oral supplement called Heliocare(R) taken in the mornings prior to anticipated sun exposure. Heliocare(R) is made from a tropical fern called Polypodium Leucotomos, which has super antioxidant capabilities. It absorbs UV-induced oxygen free radicals to help prevent them from damaging your DNA. Studies show that Heliocare(R) helps prevent basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

Another helpful oral supplement is niacinamide, also known as Vitamin B3. When taken orally at a dose of 500mg twice daily, it helps prevent basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Finally, there are some sunscreens that might be better protective than others. I prefer a sunscreen that not only provides SPF of 30 or higher, but also contains antioxidants to help absorb oxygen free radicals before they can damage your DNA, as well as repair enzymes to help repair any DNA damage that your skin cells might have incurred.

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