One of the great joys of being outdoors is basking in the soft, warm glow of the sun. But like so many of life’s pleasures, it’s best done in moderation. Sunlight includes rays of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, and exposure to those rays can lead to sunburn, premature skin aging and skin cancer.

Choosing clothing that has been designed for sun protection and tested to confirm its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) will give you greater control over your overall level of UV exposure.

This article will cover:

Who Can Benefit from UPF Clothing

UPF-rated clothing enhances everyone’s protection against UV-related health risks, but it is especially helpful for:

Caution: People with dark skin tones, who might rarely show signs of burning, can still develop skin cancer. So they, too, will benefit by being proactive about sun protection.

What UPF Ratings Mean

UPF is the rating system used for apparel. It’s similar to SPF (Sun Protection Factor), the rating system used for sunscreen products. SPF pertains only to a sunscreen’s effectiveness against UVB rays, considered to be the more damaging type of light. UPF, though, gauges a fabric’s effectiveness against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light.

When you shop, things are relatively simple: Look for a higher UPF rating number in order to get better sun protection.

UPF RatingProtection CategoryEffective UV Transmission (%)
15, 20Good6.7-4.2
25, 30, 35Very Good4.1-2.6
40, 45, 50, 50+ExcellentLess than 2.5

A UPF rating of 25 indicates the fabric of a garment will allow 1/25th (roughly 4 percent) of available UV radiation to pass through it. A garment rated UPF 50 permits only 1/50th (roughly 2 percent) UV transmission. Any fabric that allows less than 2 percent UV transmission is labeled UPF 50+.

Why you don’t see ratings below UPF 15: Fabrics rated below UPF 15 are not considered UV-protective. A typical white cotton T-shirt, for example, offers about a UPF 5 rating, which means that 20 percent (1/5) of available UV radiation passes through it.

Factors that enhance UPF ratings: As a shopper, you only need to look at the UPF spec on a garment. Clothing makers will already have considered the following factors in trying to achieve that level of sun protection:

Factors that reduce UPF ratings: When you’re considering the UPF spec on new clothing or packing your favorite rashguard for a trip to the tropics, be aware of the following:

How laundering affects UPF ratings: Washing your clothing can either increase or decrease its UPF, depending on several factors:

UPF Clothing Features

Sun Protection Beyond UPF Clothing

UPF-rating clothing alone will not fully cover you. Total UV protection requires a multifaceted approach:

Wearing UV-protective clothing and these other precautions give you a lot of tools to keep your skin healthier. Be smart about the sun and it will be easier to soak up the fun when you’re outdoors.

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