The Benefits of UPF Clothing for Sun Protection

Rayward Apparel


When we think about sun protection, the first things that often come to mind are beach umbrellas and bottles of sunscreen. However, there's another hero in the realm of sun safety: UPF clothing. UPF, or Ultraviolet Protection Factor, is a measure used to indicate how effectively fabrics shield your skin from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. In this blog, we’ll dive into how UPF clothing works and why incorporating it into your wardrobe can be a game-changer for your skin health and overall sun protection strategy. Whether you're planning a day at the beach, a hiking trip, or just everyday outdoor activities, understanding and using UPF clothing can significantly enhance your defense against UV damage.

The Importance of Sun Protection

Sun protection is crucial for maintaining skin health and preventing various forms of skin damage. Exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays can cause not only sunburn but also accelerate skin aging and increase the risk of skin cancers. With increasing awareness, protecting the skin from these harmful rays has become more significant than ever.

Understanding UV Rays

Ultraviolet (UV) rays are a form of electromagnetic radiation coming from the sun. There are two main types of UV rays that can harm your skin—UVA and UVB. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and are mostly associated with aging, causing fine lines, wrinkles, and some types of skin cancers. UVB rays damage the skin's surface and are the primary cause of sunburn. Both types contribute to the risk of skin cancer. These invisible dangers make effective sun protection essential, especially during peak hours when UV radiation is at its strongest.

Risks Associated with Sun Exposure

Woman in bathing suit applying sunscreen

The risks associated with prolonged sun exposure are substantial. Short-term effects include sunburns and allergic reactions, while long-term exposure can lead to more serious health issues such as:

  • Premature aging: This includes wrinkles, leathery skin, and sun spots.
  • Eye damage: Exposure can harm the eyes, potentially leading to cataracts and other vision problems.
  • Immune system suppression: UV rays can alter the function and distribution of the cells responsible for triggering immune responses.
  • Skin cancer: Perhaps the most severe risk, various forms of skin cancer, including melanomatous and non-melanomatous types, can develop, especially if burns occur frequently.

What is UPF Clothing?

In the quest to safeguard your skin from the harmful effects of the sun, UPF clothing is a revolutionary invention. Unlike regular fabrics, UPF-rated clothing offers specified protection against the sun’s rays, providing not only comfort but also peace of mind.

Definition and Explanation of UPF

UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, and it indicates what fraction of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate fabric. For instance, a piece of clothing with a UPF of 50 allows just 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin. This means it provides significant protection by blocking out 98% of UV radiation. UPF ratings help consumers understand the level of UV protection provided by clothing, making it easier to make informed choices about their sun-safe gear.

How UPF Clothing Differs from Regular Clothing

The key difference between UPF clothing and regular clothing lies in the construction and treatment of the fabric. UPF clothing is designed using tightly woven fabrics and specific materials that absorb or block UV radiation. It may also be treated with UV-inhibiting ingredients during the manufacturing process to boost its protective properties. In contrast, regular clothing typically offers far less UV protection, often providing less than UPF 5, and its effectiveness can diminish the more the garment is worn or washed. UPF 5 is a similar level of protection to a sunscreen with SPF 5 - it's far less protection that you should be receiving.

Common UPF Clothing Items

UPF clothing comes in various forms to suit different activities and preferences. Here are some common UPF clothing items:

  • Hats: Wide-brimmed hats are ideal for protecting the face and neck.
  • T-shirts and long-sleeve shirts: These provide coverage for the arms and torso, where sun exposure is high.
  • Pants and shorts: Specially designed with UPF fabric to cover lower body parts.
  • Swimwear: Includes one-piece suits and swim shirts designed to protect the skin during water activities.
  • Accessories: Gloves, bandanas, and cover-ups offer extra protection for exposed areas.

This versatile range ensures that individuals can stay protected while enjoying the outdoors without compromising on style or comfort.

Wide brim boonie hat UPF 50+

Benefits of UPF Clothing

Enhanced Sun Protection

The primary purpose and benefit of UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) clothing is to provide significantly enhanced protection against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Unlike regular clothing, UPF attire is specifically designed to block UV radiation from penetrating your skin. UPF ratings, similar to SPF ratings used in sunscreens, gauge this protective capability, where a higher number indicates stronger defense. For instance, a UPF rating of 50 means that only 1/50th of the sun's UV rays reach your skin. This quality is particularly vital during prolonged outdoor activities where your exposure to the sun is substantial and continuous.

Skin Health Benefits and Skin Cancer Prevention

Wearing UPF clothing contributes directly to maintaining overall skin health and significantly reducing the risk of skin cancers, including melanoma, which is highly linked to UV exposure. By actively blocking the majority of UV rays, these specialized garments help prevent the common signs of skin aging such as wrinkles, sunspots, and reduced skin elasticity. Moreover, for individuals with sensitive skin or conditions like lupus or photosensitivity, UPF clothing is indispensable as it provides necessary sun protection without the irritation that some sunscreens might cause.

Long-term Cost Savings Compared to Sunscreens

Investing in UPF clothing can also lead to substantial cost savings over time, especially when compared to the ongoing purchase of sunscreens. A typical bottle of sunscreen might only last for several applications and requires continuous reapplication to maintain effectiveness, which adds up in cost. In contrast, UPF clothes provide persistent protection as long as you wear them. They do not require reapplication and maintain their protective properties over numerous washes, making them a one-time investment for long-lasting UV protection.

How to Choose UPF Clothing

Look for UPF Labels and Ratings

When shopping for UPF clothing, the most important thing to look for is the UPF label and its accompanying rating. Reliable UPF labels are endorsed by scientific testing standards such as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The label should clearly state the UPF rating; garments that offer UPF 30 or higher are generally considered good, while UPF 50+ is deemed excellent, providing the highest level of sun protection.

Consider Fabric Type and Weave

The effectiveness of UPF clothing largely depends on the type of fabric and the tightness of the weave. Denser fabrics and tighter weaves enhance the sun protective ability of the clothing. Common materials known for high UPF ratings include polyester, nylon, and bamboo, which naturally block UV radiation more effectively than thinner, loosely woven fabrics like bleached cotton. When picking UPF clothing, opting for darker colors and unbleached textiles can also improve the level of protection as they absorb UV rays better than lighter shades.

Additional Features to Opt for in UPF Clothing

For the best sun protection, consider UPF clothing that incorporates several additional features:

  • Long sleeves and long pants provide more coverage than shorter items, minimizing skin exposure to UV rays.
  • Clothing with ventilated panels can enhance comfort without compromising on sun safety, making them ideal for hot climates.
  • Moisture-wicking materials help keep the skin dry and cool, further enhancing comfort during outdoor activities.
  • Some UPF garments also come with features like rolled-up collars and cuffs or integrated hoods to offer extra coverage for the neck and head, where skin is particularly vulnerable to sun damage.

By choosing UPF clothing wisely and using it systematically, you can enjoy substantial sun protection, keeping your skin healthy and minimizing the long-term hazards associated with UV radiation.

Maintenance and Care for UPF Clothing

Washing and Drying Guidelines

Man using a washing machine

To ensure that your UPF clothing maintains its sun-protective qualities, proper washing and drying practices are essential. Most UPF garments should be machine washed in cold water with like colors to avoid bleeding. Use a gentle laundry detergent and avoid bleaching agents, as these can break down the fibers and reduce the fabric's effectiveness at blocking UV rays. For drying, tumble dry on a low heat setting or, better yet, air dry your UPF apparel. High heat from dryers can degrade the fabric's UV protection capabilities over time.

Storage Tips for UPF Items

Proper storage of your UPF clothing is key to prolonging its life and maintaining its protective features. First, ensure that UPF clothes are completely dry before storing to prevent mildew or mold growth. Avoid folding them tightly or cramming them into an overstuffed drawer or closet; this can cause permanent creasing and fabric breakdown. Instead, hang them loosely or fold gently, placing them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Direct sunlight can fade colors and weaken the fabric’s resistance to UV rays.

Checking UPF Clothing for Signs of Wear and Tear

Regularly inspecting your UPF clothing for signs of wear and tear can help you determine when it’s time to replace items to ensure continuous sun protection. Check for obvious signs such as thinning material, fading colors, or stretched-out fabrics, as these can indicate a decrease in the effectiveness of the UV protection. Also, look for frayed edges or loose seams. If your UPF clothing shows any of these signs, it might not provide adequate protection against the sun and should be replaced. This regular check-up helps maintain optimal skin health by ensuring effective UV ray blockage.


As you step outdoors, UPF clothing offers a simple yet powerful way to protect your skin from the harsh effects of UV rays. Adopting UPF clothing into your daily wardrobe is an effective measure that complements sunscreen and other forms of sun protection. Remember, the goal is to enjoy the sun safely, and UPF clothing provides a comfortable and reliable option to help you do just that. Take this step towards better skin health today and embrace the benefits of UPF clothing.