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What is Sunscreen Clothing?

By Amanda Piontek
Updated May 17, 2024
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Sunscreen clothing is specially formulated apparel that is designed to block harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from reaching a person's skin. Ultraviolet rays from the sun can be damaging to the skin, causing painful sunburn, premature wrinkles, and potentially leading to skin cancer. Sunscreen clothing is manufactured with a chemical UV absorber or sunblock added during the production process. Clothes with an artificial boost of sun protection add a valuable barrier between the body and harmful ultraviolet rays, providing the wearer with significant advantages toward the overall health of his or her skin. Sun protective clothing is widely available for purchase online, and might also be found in stores local to the consumer.

The amount of ultraviolet rays that can be blocked using a fabric is calculated in the United States with a measurement known as Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). The UPF of a garment indicates the amount of ultraviolet rays that are able to pass through the clothes to the body. UV protection clothing with a UPF of 50, for example, allow 1/50th of the ultraviolet rays to travel through the fabric and absorb into the skin. This amounts to approximately two percent of the total UV rays, and is considered the utmost in sun protection. The higher the UPF number, the less damaging rays can penetrate the fabric and reach the skin.

All fabrics offer some level of sun barrier, whether or not they are treated with a chemical UV absorber. In general, lightweight, loose knit fabrics keep the body cool and comfortable, but do not offer a high amount of sun protection. Heavy, dark-colored, and tightly woven garments can put a much greater barrier between an individual and the sun, however, these types of clothing items are generally hot and uncomfortable to wear during warmer weather. Sunscreen clothing can provide a person with the high level of sun protection often found in the heavy types of fabric, without the added bulk and discomfort.

Sunscreen clothing is intended to be used in conjunction with other sun protection methods, rather than taking their place. Wearing sunblock, particularly on the face, ears and neck, is an important way to guard the body against harmful UV. It is also recommended that an individual wear a hat and protective sunglasses, as well as limit sun exposure during the middle of the day when the sun is highest in the sky. Sunscreen clothing complements these traditional safeguards, especially in situations where sunblock might not be applied correctly, or exposure to the mid-day sun is not avoidable.

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