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What Clothing Is Best for Sun Protection?

Read Time: 3 minutes

Clothing on hangers with trees behind them

No matter where your summer adventures take you—whether it’s hiking excursions, pool or beach days, or amusement park fun—your skin is at risk of sun damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays. Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s harmful rays can penetrate your skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. And UV damage may lead to skin cancer.

Experts at Huntsman Cancer Institute recommend avoiding the sun as much as possible. Sun exposure should be especially limited between the peak hours of 10 am and 4 pm when the sun’s rays are strongest. If you can’t do that, the next best thing is to cover your skin with clothing. In fact, clothing is the most effective form of sun protection. But what type of clothing is best? Choose clothing with these seven traits for protection against the sun.

Dense fabric

Fabric thickness is a key factor. Pick tightly woven or knitted fabrics that have smaller holes. Dense fabrics allow fewer UV rays to get through.

Dark or bright colors

Darker colors, such as blue or black, absorb more UV rays than lighter shades like whites and pastels. This means the UV rays are less likely to reach your skin. But bright colors, like red, can also absorb UV rays. The more vivid the color, the greater the protection—a bright yellow shirt is more protective than a pale one.

Synthetic material

Polyester and nylon are more protective than bleached cotton or rayon.

Dry fabric

Dry fabric offers more protection than wet fabric.

Good condition

Older, frayed, or faded garments are less effective in protecting the skin against harmful rays.

More fabric

Long-sleeved shirts that cover your arms and pants that cover your legs offer the most protection.

Ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating

Many outdoor retailers offer UPF-rated clothing, meaning it shields the sun’s harmful rays. While the Skin Cancer Foundation notes that clothing with this rating is effective, these items can be expensive.

Along with clothing, follow these five tips to protect yourself from the sun:

Protect your skin infographic

Cover your face

Huntsman Cancer Institute recommends wearing hats with a three-inch brim or wider. A sun hat with a brim all the way around will protect your face and the back of your neck.

Protect your eyes

Eyes are also highly sensitive to the sun’s rays. Sunglasses offer protection, but not all are created equal. Here’s what to look for.

  • UV protection
    • Only sunglasses labeled as having 99–100% UV light protection should be worn. Don’t assume you’ll get full UV protection from darker lenses, polarized lenses, or a mirror coating, which are all designed to let in less light.
  • Wrap-around style
    • Wrap-around glasses are designed to protect your eyes from harmful rays. They are shaped to keep light from shining around the frames and into your eyes.

Seek shade

Seek shade when you are outside. Check the length of your shadow—if it is shorter than you are, it’s a clear sign to seek shade.

Use the right sunscreen

Any areas of skin not protected by clothing should be covered in sunscreen. Not all sunscreens are created equal. Look for these features:

  • SPF 30 or higher
  • Protection against UVA and UVB rays
  • Contains zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both
  • Lotion, rather than spray
  • Water resistant

Use enough sunscreen to generously coat skin not covered by clothing. Huntsman Cancer Institute recommends most adults use one ounce to cover the whole body. Always follow the directions and adjust the amount of sunscreen depending on body size. Make sure to reapply every two hours or after swimming, drying off with a towel, or sweating. Learn more about how to choose the right sunscreen to stay sun safe.

Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps

UV light from tanning beds can cause skin cancer and premature skin aging. People who tan have a higher risk of melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan or sunburn is your body’s response to damage from UV rays.

Learn more about protecting your skin.

Cancer touches all of us.