Can Clothing Protect You from UV Rays?

Skin Care
Can Clothing Protect You from UV Rays?

Clothes Protect You Less than You Think

There’s actually a word to describe how well clothes block UV radiation. Ultraviolet Protection Factor or UPF is the “SPF” of clothing. It’s used to describe the fraction of sun’s rays that can get through your threads. (Below is the ARPANSA’s breakdown of UPF and UV-blockage.)

UPF protection

The average plain white T offers a UPF of somewhere between 5 and 7 (Skin Cancer FoundationSkin Cancer Foundation). Unfortunately, the clothes that offer the best protection also tend to be the worst to wear in hot weather:

  • Dark and bright fabrics absorb more UV rays than light fabrics (instead of letting them through)
  • Heavier fabrics let in fewer UV rays than lighter fabrics
  • Tighter weaves and knits offer more UV protection than looser weaves and knits
  • Synthetic and semi-synthetic (e.g. lycra) fabrics offer more UV protection than natural fabric (e.g. cotton)
  • Shiny fabrics deflect more UV radiation than matte fabrics

But wait! You don’t have to sweat yourself into heat exhaustion with heavy clothes just to be protected from the sun! Here are a few solutions (which work best when you put them all together!):

Option 1: UPF Protective Clothing


Sun protective clothing has to have a UPF between 15 and 50 to be marketed as protection, and many have a UPF of 50+. These clothes take the guesswork out of picking out clothes that will protect your from UV radiation.

I like Coolibar, which tends to have more fashion-focused looks. The company’s clothes all have a UPF of 30 and up and are pretty darn chic, like this Coolibar UPF 50+ ZnO Color Block Tunic ($79, or this Coolibar UPF 50+ Packable Wide Brim Sun Hat ($35, (Remember to wear hats — people with melanoma on the head and neck are twice as likely to die from the cancer as those with melanoma on other places on the body.)

Option 2: Rit Sun Guard


Adding UV protection to your closet doesn’t mean you have to buy a whole new wardrobe or start wearing wool coats in summer. Thanks to Skin Cancer Foundation-approved Rit Sun Guard® ($28.98 for six packs,, you can wash UPF right into your clothing.

Rit Sun Guard®, which contains Tinosorb® FD, increases UPF by six-fold after one washing, and by 10-fold after two consecutive washings. Better yet? Garments washed with Rit Sun Guard® maintain a UPF of 30 for up to 20 launderings (Journal of Long-term Effects of Medical Implants).

Option 3: Slather Sunscreen in the Buff


You can avoid a lot of pain (and tan lines!) by rubbing on sunscreen before putting on clothing. By doing this, you ensure protection everywhere — meaning no weird burns where the collar of your shirt moves around. Extra points if you do this in conjunction with UV protective clothing!

I love Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunscreen (10.99, — it’s super lightweight, absorbs quickly, and has great protection from Helioplex.


How much sun protection clothes provide is variable, but you can do a lot to ensure that you’re protected without having to wear something unfashionable. Whether you buy UV-protective clothing, use Rit Sun Guard to add UPF, slather sunscreen all over before getting dressed, or (best option) all three, you can keep your delicate skin protected while still looking stylish.

Contributing author: Natalie Bell

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