Sun Safety

Understanding UPF: The best clothes to wear for sun protection

MoleMap Team
August 19, 2023
3 minutes

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Not all cloth­ing pro­vides the same amount of sun protection

Did you know that you can get sun­burned through cloth­ing? Cloth­ing can have vary­ing degrees of pro­tec­tion, depend­ing on the fab­ric used – and some fab­rics can leave your skin exposed to harm­ful UV rays, increas­ing your risk of skin can­cer in lat­er life.

The ​‘pro­tec­tive­ness’ of a gar­ment is deter­mined by the UV Pro­tec­tion Fac­tor (UPF) rat­ing sys­tem. It’s very sim­i­lar to the SPF rat­ing sys­tem used for sun­screen – UPF50+ is equiv­a­lent to wear­ing SPF50+ sun­screen. Some clothes might only have a UPF of 5, pro­vid­ing min­i­mal pro­tec­tion to your skin from the harsh sum­mer sun.

proper clothing for kids playing in the sand

What are UPF ratings?

UPF mea­sures the amount of UV rays that pass through fab­rics when exposed to UV radi­a­tion. So, for exam­ple, UPF50 allows only 150th of UV radi­a­tion to pass through a gar­ment – i.e. it blocks out 98% of UV radi­a­tion. To help you choose when buy­ing cloth­ing, look for the fol­low­ing UPF rat­ings – obvi­ous­ly the high­er the better!

UPF Rat­ings

UPFPro­tec­tion Category15 or 20Good Pro­tec­tion25, 30 or 35Very Good Protection40, 50 or 50+Excel­lent Protection

UPF mea­sures the amount of UV rays that pass through fab­rics

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So, which fab­rics should you choose?

As a gen­er­al rule of thumb, the high­er the weave; the dark­er the colour; the heav­ier the weight; the less stretch; the better.

Spe­cial­ly man­u­fac­tured sun pro­tec­tion fab­rics (such as rash shirt fab­rics) are best. In New Zealand, gen­uine sun pro­tec­tive cloth­ing must be made from fab­ric that com­plies with the stan­dard AS/NZS4399:1996. Cloth­ing that meets this stan­dard car­ries a label stat­ing its UPF rating.

Good fab­rics:

Blue or black den­im jeans, meri­no wool gar­ments, 100% poly­ester, shiny poly­ester blends, satin-fin­ish silk of any weight, tight­ly woven fab­rics and unbleached cot­ton are also good.

Not-so-good fab­rics:

Poly­ester crêpe, bleached cot­ton, vis­cose, knits (espe­cial­ly loose­ly woven), undyed, white den­im jeans, and thread­bare, holey or worn fabrics.

More sun safe­ty tips

Don’t for­get to slip, slop, slap and wrap. While cov­er­ing up with cloth­ing is a great way to pro­tect your skin from sun­burn and skin dam­age, it’s only part of the pic­ture. Slap on a wide-brimmed hat and wrap your eyes with sun­glass­es as well — and try to avoid the sun alto­geth­er between 10am and 4pm in the day­light sav­ings months.

And remem­ber to apply a 30+ SPF sun­screen before putting on swimwear or clothes to ensure you don’t leave any unpro­tect­ed skin exposed.

Also, why not book your next skin check-up, including a mole check and skin check, at reputable skin cancer clinics? It's always good to stay on top of your health and ensure early detection of any potential concerns. Protect your skin and prioritise your well-being today.

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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