Does Sun Protection Clothing Actually Work?

Apparel provides an easier and larger barrier against UV rays

Does Sun Protective Clothing (SPF) Actually Work?

If you’re an active beachgoer, surfer or water baby, chances are you’ve complained about having to lather on the sunscreen every other time you turn around. After all, it’s recommended to reapply sunscreen every two hours or so ― especially if you’re toweling off, swimming or sweating frequently.

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And although this won’t solve all your problems ― because it’s recommended to be used in coordination with sunscreen ― may we introduce to you sun protection clothing?

Huh? How is it different than just regular old clothes, you ask?

Understanding UPF

Well for starters, dermatologist, Alok Vij, MD, says that when talking about fabrics use the term “UPF,” which stands for ultraviolet protection factor. And with sunscreen, use the term “SPF,” or the more familiar sun protection factor. “Most cotton shirts give you an equivalent of about a UPF of 5 when you’re wearing it,” he explains.

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“Most fabrics that we wear are a loose weave that lets visible light peek through and get to our skin. With UPF-protected clothes, the weave is different and often times is made from a special fabric to help form a barrier against the sun’s rays.”

UV light can penetrate through the micro holes in the weaves of regular clothes or can even travel directly through a light-colored shirt. With UPF clothing, the block is much greater, giving you more protection from the sun.

Most sun protection clothing looks and feels like active wear or athleisure and comes in a variety of shirts, leggings and hats. And because of the higher thread count, it often feels a little more luxurious vs. your standard T-shirt.

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Is sun protection clothing better than using sunscreen?

For most people, it’s easier to toss on clothing rather than lather up with sunscreen every couple of hours. A shirt, pants and hat can give you great sun protection coverage, but there are still areas exposed to UV rays, like your hands, neck and face.

This is where sunscreen still comes into play.

“Most sun protected fabrics are UPF 50 or higher ― so better than your typical SPF sunscreen,” says Dr. Vij. “But it’s recommend for people to choose a mixture of both sunscreen and clothing to get the best possible protection.”

And what about the life cycle and washing when it comes to sun protection clothing? Dr. Vji says like any other fabric it will eventually break down with frequent use, but it’s reasonable to expect the apparel to last two or three years.

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