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Tips to Choose the Right Sun Protective Clothing

An image of a woman and her daughterYour body needs some sunlight to function at its best and to fulfill its vitamin D needs, but if you live in a sunny part of the world, then you may be getting too much. Wearing sunscreen and staying out of the sun where possible are good strategies for avoiding excessive sun exposure. But both also have downsides. And if you’re still in the sun too much, then it may be time to look at sun protective clothing. This type of clothing can give you extra protection and extra peace of mind if you’re spending a lot of time outdoors in the summertime. So let’s take a look at the best clothes for protecting your skin from the sun.

What Is Sun Protective Clothing?

Sun protective clothing are clothes that help protect your skin from the sun’s UV rays, providing you with an extra layer of protection. You can find clothes that have an ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) on the label. To be considered sun protective, an item of clothing should have a UPF higher than 15.

A UPF label tells you what fraction of UV rays can penetrate the fabric you’re wearing. For example, if your clothes have a UPF of 50, it means that they allow 1/50th or 2 percent of UV rays to reach the skin compared to a white cotton shirt. So basically, the higher the rating the better. However, as long as your clothes have a rating over 30, they’re considered sun protective.

These articles of clothing should not be used to replace sunscreen. Instead, think of them more as an extra layer of protection and keep applying your sunscreen if you’re outside, particularly over your face, ears, hands, and neck, which are usually fully exposed to the sun.

Why You Need Sun Protective Clothing

Overexposure to UV rays from the sun can cause skin damage, premature aging, and skin cancer. You might think that you’re avoiding these dangers by wearing sunscreen when you’re out in the sun for a long time, but this really isn’t enough, particularly if you live in a country or state that gets a lot of sun.

Sun protective clothing is an easy way to block more sun rays without you having to put any extra effort in. Your protection never needs to be reapplied and it can block a lot of the UV rays from reaching your skin if you choose the right options.

Obviously, you can wear these clothes all the time if they’re your style. However, you probably don’t need to wear them every day if you work indoors. If you’re rarely in the sun during your regular workday, you can keep these clothes for special occasions when you need to spend a lot of time outdoors like on active weekends. This will allow you to enjoy the protective qualities without having to compromise your daily style.

UPF vs SPF for Sun Protective Clothing

Before you start buying sun protective clothing, you need to think about Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) and Sun Protection Factor (SPF). These are two of the most common terms when it comes to sun protection, but they don’t mean the same thing.

An image of a man applying sunscreen on his sonSPF is usually used on sunscreen, and it refers to how long it will take for your skin to burn when you’re exposed to the sun. For example, if you usually burn in the sun after 20 minutes without sunscreen, then SPF 15 sunscreen will protect you for 15 times longer (which works out to about 300 minutes).

UPF refers to how much UVB and UVA rays reach your skin after going through the fabric. UVB and UVA are two types of radiation that come from the sun. Generally speaking, a rating of 30-40 UPF for clothes is considered very good protection and over 50 is exceptional.

Other Important Factors for Sun Protective Clothing

There are several important factors to look at when choosing sun protective clothing including:


Darker colors absorb sun rays rather than allowing them to reach your skin, so choosing dark or bright colors is best for this purpose.


Fabrics that are dense and thick are better for blocking sun rays. The best fabrics for sun protection are:

  • Denim
  • Wool
  • Synthetic and semi-synthetic fibers like rayon and polyester

The content of the fabric is important as well. Some of the best fabrics for sun protection are:

  • Unbleached cotton, which contains natural lignins that absorb UV rays
  • High-tech fabrics treated with chemical UV absorbers or dyes
  • Shiny polyesters and lightweight satiny silks, which reflect radiation


The more skin your clothes cover the better for sun protection, so look for long sleeves and trousers where possible.


Tight clothes stretch, which can lower their level of protection as the fibers pull away from each other. So instead, choose loose-fitting clothes where possible.

The fit also applies to the hat you choose to wear. For the best protection, choose a hat that has a brim that’s at least 3 inches in diameter all the way around. This will allow it to shield your ears, neck, face, and even some of your shoulders. Your hat should also have a high UPF rating.


What activity you intend to do in your clothes is also important. Clothes that get wet lose up to 50 percent of their sun protection. And if you’re moving a lot and stretching your clothes, the same thing will occur.

Sun Exposure and Stress

Excessive sun exposure and UV rays can cause damage to the skin, speed up the signs of aging, and put you at higher risk of skin cancer. This kind of damage can also have deeper effects on your health as it’s a source of stress.

Stress is natural and even healthy. Your body has a mechanism to deal with stress known as the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response. When you’re healthy, the NEM stress response activates six circuits of related organs and systems to resolve stress and prevent damage. It does this by prompting the adrenal glands to release cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Cortisol then circulates through the body, changing how the body’s organ systems work. When stress is short-term, cortisol levels drop once the source of the stress has passed. This allows the body’s circuits to return to normal.

An image of a stressed woman covering her head with a newspaperWhen stress is chronic and ongoing, as it often is in the modern world, the NEM stress response remains active over the long term. Cortisol levels remain high, and the body’s circuits stay in their stressed state. This can cause the adrenal glands to fatigue, leading to a little-known condition known as Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS). It can also cause the body’s circuits and their components to become unbalanced and dysfunctional, resulting in a variety of symptoms and health complaints.

Recovering from AFS means removing sources of stress. This allows the NEM stress response to slow down and reduces the adrenal glands’ workload, allowing them to heal. Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done as there can be numerous sources of stress in your life that are contributing to your condition.

Wearing sun protective clothing can be an easy way to help alleviate some of this stress. Here’s how:

Preventing Skin Damage

Clothing that protects your skin from the sun will help prevent sunburn, which is a short-term source of stress. It may also help prevent long-term health problems that can occur from sunburn such as skin cancers.

Preventing Free Radical Production

Damage from UV radiation from the sun causes the production of free radicals. These are unstable molecules that can damage your cells and cause cancer and premature aging. When you have AFS, you will often have high levels of free radicals in your body, so reducing or preventing these can be very beneficial.

Ease of Use

Recovery from AFS often means adopting lifestyle changes that reduce stress. However, these changes can be very stressful to implement and be another cause of stress. In contrast, wearing clothing that protects you from the sun is easy to do and shouldn’t cause much stress at all.

Sun Protective Clothing: The Takeaway

The sun can do a lot of damage to your skin if you aren’t careful. That’s why it’s a good idea to choose sun protective clothing, which is made from fabrics that will give you that extra protection when you’re outdoors. Here’s a quick guide to clothes that will help protect you when the sun is bright:

  1. Choose tightly woven fabrics like denim and wool.
  2. Try to keep them dry and lose fitting.
  3. Wear dark or bright colors where possible to reflect light rays.
  4. Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your sun exposure.

For more help with protecting your skin from the sun or any other aspect of your health, talk to our team at +1 (626) 571-1234 or click here.

© Copyright 2023 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Sun protective clothing is clothing that helps to block UV rays from the sun because of the fabric or the color, and it can be a good way to block a lot of UV rays without making much effort at all. Wearing clothes to block the sun is a great way to plan your sun protection once and go about your day.

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