How Do UV Protection Shirts Work?

If you are a surfer, athlete, water-baby, or even just a casual beachgoer, you've probably complained more than once about having to coat yourself with sunscreen and keep reapplying it when you are out in the sun. Especially if you are sweating, swimming, or toweling off frequently. You know you should wear sunscreen, but it's so easy to forget to reapply it when you are out in the sun. Enter UV protection shirts.

That's right, sun protection clothing is now a thing. And if you are wondering how that is different than, well, regular clothing, and if they work, read on.

What Does UPF Mean?

Let's begin with some terminology. You're probably familiar with the term Sun Protection Factor (SPF) found on sunscreen packaging. This indicates how well a sunscreen protects you from the sun's harmful UV rays. For UV protection shirts and other clothing, the term Ultraviolet Protection Factor or UPF is used.

There are three ways to protect yourself from UV radiation:

  • Absorb it.
  • Block it.
  • Reflect it away.

Sunscreen either absorbs or blocks UV radiation, while UV protection clothing provides all three types of protection. The chemical treatment absorbs it, the fabric blocks it, and the color reflects it. The UPF number listed on the clothing denotes how much of the sun's UV radiation the material absorbs.

How Do UV Protection Shirts Work?

Most cotton shirts provide about a UPF of 5. That's because most of the clothing we wear is a loose weave and lets visible light through to our skin. In UPF or UV protection clothes, the weave is tighter. In addition, UV protection clothes are made from a unique fabric engineered to help create a barrier that keeps out the sun's rays.

UV light can get through the looser weave of most regular clothes, and in some cases can travel directly through them. With UV protection clothing, more of the sun's rays are blocked, and you get more sun protection. For example, a shirt with UPF 50 only allows 1/50th of the sun's harmful UV rays to get through to your skin. This means it blocks 98 percent of the sun's radiation before it reaches your skin.

UV protection fabric looks and feels like athleisure or activewear and is usually made into hats, leggings, or shirts. Because of the tighter weave and higher thread count, a UV protection shirt usually feels more luxurious than your standard cotton shirt. To be considered sun-protective, clothing must have a UPF of 15-50+.

Why Choose UV Protection Clothing?

You could get the same amount of protection from other types of tightly-woven material, such as denim, which has a UPF of 1,700. But you probably wouldn't want to spend a day outdoors surfing, swimming, or hiking decked out in denim. If your clothes are so uncomfortable that you take them off, they are not going to give you any protection. Because UV protection shirts are lightweight, comfortable, and breathable, they give your skin the protection it needs without making you uncomfortable on hot, sunny days.

Is Sun Protection Clothing Better Than Sunscreen?

For most people, it's easier to toss on clothing rather than to layer on sunscreen every few hours. And most UV protection clothing is UPF 50, which is better than most sunscreens. A shirt, pants, and hat can give you excellent sun protection coverage, but there are still areas exposed to UV rays, like your hands, neck, and face. This is where sunscreen comes in. To get the best possible protection, it is recommended to use a mixture of both UV protection clothing and sunscreen to get the best protection possible.

Complete UV protection requires a multifaceted approach that includes:

  • Wearing UV-protective clothing.
  • Generous application of high SPF sunscreen to skin not covered by clothing.
  • Wearing sunglasses with 100 percent UV-ray protection.
  • Seeking shade when possible.
  • Monitoring and limiting how much time you are exposed to UV radiation, especially between 9 a.m. to 3 p.m, peak daylight hours.
  • Remembering to protect your skin on cloudy days as well as sunny ones. Filtered sunlight can still do some damage to your skin.

Wearing a UV protection shirt can protect you from the sun, it's almost like a secret weapon. But make sure to use sunscreen on those areas that a shirt and other clothing doesn't cover. That way, you can enjoy your time in the sun without worrying.

Who Benefits from UV Protection Clothing

Everyone can benefit from wearing UV protection clothing to avoided UV-related health risks. However, some people and some situations require an extra form of protection from the sun.

  • If you have fair skin or sunburn quickly and easily.
  • Kids have sensitive skin, and sun damage at an early age can increase their risk of serious problems later.
  • When you are at high elevations, on snow or water, or in equatorial regions as the sun's intensity is much greater in these environments.
  • If you take medications that increase sun sensitivity such as antihistamines, acne treatments, certain anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, and some herbal supplements. Check all medications and supplements for cautions about sun exposure.

While UV protection clothing doesn't mean you can ditch sunscreen altogether, it does give your skin longer-lasting protection. You can throw on a UV protection shirt in the morning and keep it on all day. Sweating, swimming, or surfing causes sunscreen to rub off and lose its effectiveness. A regular shirt may seem like a good idea if you are hiking, but once you start to sweat, it may lose some of its protection, not to mention being uncomfortable. A UV protection shirt not only keeps you protected but is breathable and wicks away moisture, so it also keeps you comfortable.

One of the delights of being outdoors is basking in the warmth of the sun. Wearing a UV protection shirt designed to keep most of the sun's UV rays from your skin gives you more control over your level of UV exposure. And increases the enjoyment of all your outdoor activities.