Is my clothing protecting me from the sun?

Along with sunscreen, sunglasses and shade, one of the common sun-safe habits we’re encouraged to adopt is to wear sun protective clothing. But what is sun protective clothing and how do you know if your clothes are adequately shielding you from the sun’s UV?

What is sun protective clothing?

Sun protective clothing is made from a material designed to shield your skin from the damaging effects of the sun’s UV rays, which can cause sunburn, skin damage and cancer.

Sun protective clothing is sometimes referred to as UPF clothing, which stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. This rating indicates the amount of UV that can pass through the material and reach your skin, with a rating above UPF 30 recommended. The greater the number, the better the protection, so a UPF rating of 50 or higher is optimal.

All sorts of everyday apparel are available with a UPF rating, including swimwear.

Is my regular clothing sun protective?

While clothing with an official UPF rating is preferred, it is unrealistic to fill your entire wardrobe with it! When looking at the sun safety of your everyday clothes, the following factors increase an item's amount of protection:

  • Dark material
    Dark colours absorb more UV radiation, making it harder for the rays to reach your skin.
  • Long sleeves
    Covering your skin with material is better than having no protection at all, even if your clothing isn’t UPF rated. Creating a physical barrier to block out some of the sun’s UV can help prevent some exposure, but keep in mind that fabric often doesn’t entirely prevent sunburn or cell damage.
  • Loose-fitting clothing
    Clothes that fit loosely tend to be cooler in warmer weather and allow for better airflow, so you will feel more comfortable wearing long sleeves and less likely to roll them up to stay cool.
  • Collared shirts and a hat
    Hats are essential for protecting your head, neck, scalp and ears (common areas for skin cancers to develop), and collared shirts provide added protection for your neck.
  • Tightly woven material
    The closer the weave, the more protection the fabric offers, as there is less space between threads for the sun’s UV to penetrate.

Don't forget: Any exposed skin not covered by clothing or a hat should be protected with sunscreen, especially if you are going outside between peak UV times (usually between 10am and 2pm).