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Sun Protective Clothing

Clothing is a simple and effective sun protection tool. It provides a physical block that doesn't wash or wear off and can shade the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Long-sleeved shirts and pants, hats with broad brims and sunglasses are all effective forms of sun protective clothing.


The American Society for Testing and Materials has recently developed standards for manufacture and labeling of sun protective products. The new units for UV protection are called UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). UPF measures the ability of the fabric to block UV from passing through it and reaching the skin.

  • Good UV Protection (for UPF 15-24),
  • Very Good UV protection (for UPF 25-39), or
  • Excellent UV Protection (for UPF 40-50)

Not all fabrics block UV light to the same extent. The Ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) of clothing depends on several factors including weave and chemical additives when manufactured, (such as UV absorbers or UV diffusers).

UPF factors in order of importance:

  • Weave: tightly woven fabric provides greater protection than loosely woven clothing. If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through, too.
  • Color: Dark colors provide more protection than light colors by preventing more UV rays from reaching your skin.
  • Weight: also called mass or cover factor - heavier is better
  • Stretch: Clothing with less stretch generally has better UV protection
  • Wetness: Dry fabric is generally more protective than wet fabric.

The ideal sun-protective fabrics are lightweight, comfortable, and protect against exposure even when wet. Currently, only a few companies in the U.S. manufacture clothing that is specifically designed to be UV-protective. Their products include outerwear, pants, shirts, and hats for all sizes and shapes including children. See the sidebar at the left for recommended websites.

For those who enjoy water sports, consider using UV protective swimwear including rash guards and swimsuits. Some companies even sell UV protective flotation devices and swim diapers.

Additionally, you may use sunprotective clothing additives such as Sunguard Detergent. Sunguard detergent is an UV blocking additive that can be added to your laundry to transform everyday clothing into sun protective gear with a SPF 30. The active ingredient is Tinosorb™ FD, a UV protectant that can boost the SPF protection of a white cotton T-shirt from SPF 5 to UPF 30.

For more information:

Examples of UV protective clothing (Pictures courtesy of SunPrecautions Clothing)

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Disclaimer: UCSF has no financial affiliation with any of the companies listed above. This information is purely informative in nature.



Updated: May 4, 2007
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.
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