Summer is the time when you pay extra attention to sun exposure. Though you should wear sunscreen year-round — yes, even in the wintertime — right now, with all your backyard barbecues and trips to the park, it’s important to slather that on and invest in sun-protective clothing. If you’ve never considered the latter before, TZR spoke with experts to break down exactly what it entails and found some stylish and functional clothes in the process for you to shop.
The ability of any clothing item to protect you from the sun is measured by UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). A UV protective garment is considered as such when it is able to absorb and/or reflect UVA (type A ultraviolet) and UVB (type B ultraviolet) rays. “The UPF rating in apparel is similar to the SPF rating in sunscreens,” says Dr. Mamina Turegano, M.D., to TZR. “If you have a UPF of 40, it would take 40 times as long to get burned compared to not wearing any UPF [clothing].”
SPF refers to the amount of protection a topical substance offers you from UVB rays (the kind that produces sunburns and plays the greatest role in causing skin cancers) while the UPF factor describes how much protection a piece of clothing offers you from both UVA and UVB rays. This is an important distinction because UVA rays penetrate more deeply into the skin and play a greater role in your skin’s aging process, including wrinkle formation. “Sunscreen alone is not 100% effective at protecting your skin from UV rays, and if you don’t re-apply, the effectiveness wears off,” Turegano says. “UV protective garments will provide that extra layer of protection, especially for prolonged periods outdoors.”
For an item to be considered sun protective, it has to have a UPF rating of at least 15. Additionally, in order to be recognized by the Skin Cancer Foundation’s official Seal of Recommendation, the garment must have a UPF rating of 30 or above. The Seal of Recommendation is a voluntary recognition that some brands choose to apply for in order to get that extra badge of approval. While shopping for sun protective garments, you might notice how the UPF rating number doesn’t usually go above 50 — and the reason for that is a UPF value above 50 doesn’t provide significantly improved protection from UV rays. So instead of reporting seemingly impressive numbers like UPF 100 or UPF 500, most brands simply state UPF 50+.
To achieve UV protective quality, each garment has to go through special treatments such as chemical processing (adding UV-absorbing components to the fabric) or thread-kneading (where the manufacturer ‘kneads in’ material that physically reflects UV rays.) “It is a misconception that regular materials and fabrics will protect you from the sun because they are technically covering your skin,” Michael Zakrzewski, director of communications at UNIQLO, tells TZR. “Except for tightly woven fabrics such as denim, regular fabrics do not offer enough protection because UV rays can still penetrate through the garments without added technology.”
Zakrzewski further adds that when you’re shopping for sun-protective clothing, the first piece of information you should look for is the UPF rating. The higher it is, the stronger the protection will be. Additional UV protection, UPF-rated accessories such as hats, sunglasses, and arm sleeves are also helpful and versatile in a way where you can put them on and take them off as needed. “I would look for things that you would feel motivated to wear regularly,” Turegano adds. “Regular and consistent sun-protective practices have been shown to be the most helpful way to prevent skin cancer and accelerated aging.”
To sum it up, you should wear both sun-protective clothing and sunscreen as either one alone isn’t nearly as effective. Below, shop some UV protective items like a swimsuit, slip dress, and leggings.
We only include products that have been independently selected by TZR’s editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
This floral print dress from Ralph Lauren gives off tennis attire vibes — a major athleisure trend for Summer 2021 — while also providing a significant amount of sun protection as the fabric is rated UPF 50. Style the dress with white sneakers for a sporty off-duty look.