The best of Sunscreen Clothing

Sunscreen clothing is so often not considered by those seeking protection from the sun.

Not really a substitute for a non-toxic, non-chemical, healthy sunscreen, it does however, provide a valuable extra line of defence. It can also be one of the easiest, or most practical ways to keep you and your family protected.

Made with materials that contain a measurable ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), it is becoming more popular as the technology advances as well as its fashionability. 

Also, as the information becomes more pervasive about just how harmful the suns rays can be, the more open many people are, and are actually purposely seeking out sun-protective clothing, or otherwise known as 'SPF clothing' or 'UV protective clothing'.

Among the many organisations that actually recommend sun protective wear as an additional sun protection measure are the:

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Embracing the sunshineEmbracing the sunshine with protective hat and sunglasses

Sunscreen clothing's UV Protection Factor

Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is a measurement that represents the amount of Ultra Violet A (UVA) or Ultra Violet B (UVB) radiation that can penetrate a fabric and reach the skin.

This is in contrast to the Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which measures the time that it takes for UVB rays to cause the skin to redden after application of a sunscreen. Technically you can calculate how much time you have in the sun before you will start to burn. eg. If you take 10 minutes to burn without any sunscreen, then an SPF of 15 would increase that time to 10 x 15 = 150 minutes, or 2 and a half hours.

So, the UPF in sunscreen clothing will help prevent the UV rays from reaching your skin. Thereafter, the SPF in a sunscreen will protect your skin further from those rays that do reach your skin. The sunscreen's SPF will fade with time but the UPF in your clothing will not.

UPF Rating...............PROVIDES...............% UV BLOCKED

15-24:..........GOOD UV PROTECTION..........93% - 96%

25-39......VERY GOOD UV PROTECTION......96% - 97%

40-50.......EXCELLENT UV PROTECTION.......98% - 99%

Who uses UPF protected clothing?

Sun protection clothing is understandably targeted around the outdoor active people who are more likely to see the benefit of investing in these specific clothes. Typically this is split into the following outdoor categories:

  • Sports: yachting, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, skiing - snow or water, cycling, horse riding, hunting, surfing.
  • Leisure: repeat of all the above, but also hiking, climbing, camping, cruising, snorkelling, boogie boarding.
  • Work: farming, scientific research, prospecting, mining.

However, there are other areas of interest that include:

  • Everyday workers exposed to the sun's UVA rays that penetrate through windows; or while driving a car; or commuting by train
  • People who prefer to maintain a very pale skin like in many Eastern cultures such as the Japanese
  • Specific fashions or cults such as Goths, who prefer extremely pale skins

How to Choose sunscreen clothing?

The best choice of fabric relevant to your specific activities or needs will depend on the cut or weave of the cloth and even the colour. Tight weaves like muslins and twills are best for high protection as well as the lighter colors.

Benefits from sunscreen protective clothing:

  • Excellent Broad spectrum protection. For UPF 50+ you get 97.5% protection for both UVA & UVB rays
  • Time independent. All day protection that does not wash off, like sunscreens can
  • No reapplication required, as with sunscreens 
  • Easy wearing. Fabrics that 'breath' and dry quickly don't slow down performance levels required in outdoor activities when compared to ordinary fabrics such as T-shirt fabrics which would be clammy and heavy. At the same time, they will provide typically up to 5 times the UPF protection than an ordinary fabric will
  • Reduces surf and sand irritation, in such activities as swimming, snorkelling, surfing and boogie boarding
  • Skin insulation allows you to remain cool and comfortable in the heat, or warm in the cold 
  • No toxic or harsh chemicals are used, as opposed to many sunscreen options
Toxic freeOutdoors with sunscreen clothing can be wonderfully toxic free

How is sunscreen clothing processed?

Manufacturers test and individually label each sun protective clothing item with an ultraviolet protection factor. They usually specifically label each garment with the relevant UPF 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 or 50+ (the highest rating label being 50+). 

Specific fabrics are chosen for specific needs such as:

  • blouses and shirts will use a tightly woven nylon microfiber
  • silky, woven fabrics used for a more luxurious look
  • plaited cotton for polos or T-shirts
  • moisture-wicking, quick-drying nylon blend poplin for trousers
  • polyester microfiber mesh knit that stretches for such things as gloves
  • swimwear on the other hand ideally requires a knitted polyester fabric without Lycra to protect, as well as hold its shape and preferably be resistant to both sun and chlorine deterioration

Fabrics are enhanced with a UV diffuser that is mostly titanium dioxide. Other qualities may be required of the fabric, eg. the fabric must be able to breathe, or be extremely durable.

As a base for comparison purposes, wearing a regular cotton T-shirt is equivalent to having a sunscreen with SPF 5 on your skin. In general, sunscreen clothing aims to provide for higher levels of protection, as well as a more sophisticated fabric.

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