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What Is UPF Clothing?

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Ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF, ratings would be to fabrics that which sun protection factor (SPF) ratings are to sunscreen: They indicate what fraction of the sunlight’s ultraviolet rays can penetrate a given cloth. A UPF rating of 25, for example, implies the substance allows 1/25 (4 percent) of UV radiation at all, and a UPF 50 garment lets in 1/50 (2% ).

Frustrations with sunscreen–the demand for regular application, the inevitable greasy feeling, as well as the possible risk to aquatic life–combined with an increased awareness of the hazards of extended sun exposure, have helped expand the UPF-clothing sector from largely utilitarian pieces to a wider assortment of appealing, everyday styles. You can now locate UPF clothing from dozens of businesses and in thousands of layouts, all with tighter weaves or treated fabrics (or often, both) to better block the sun’s beams. Some manufacturers (for example, Coolibar, Mott50, and UV Skinz) specialize in UPF clothing, though other tags (from Lilly Pulitzer to Uniqlo into Athleta) today provide UPF pieces as well. Wirecutter has reviewed some UPF accessories and clothing, such as browsing rash guards and sun hats for adults, also swimsuits, rash guards, and sun hats for kids.

Much like sunscreen, UPF clothing goes through testing in independent labs–but unlike with sunscreen, that testing is totally voluntary rather than a regulatory necessity. Companies that sell and make UPF fabrics in America normally adhere to complementary standards set by ASTM International (formerly the American Society for Testing and Materials) and the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC). A UPF rating is not often stated by clothing tags, but not always if companies have complied with those standards. A Seal of Recommendation in the Skin Cancer Foundation does indicate compliance, even though not all brands apply for this differentiation.

Some UV radiation passes directly to the skin via micro-spaces involving the fibers of most fabrics, some is absorbed by the fibers, and some is scattered off by reflection. Labs utilize the ASTM and AATCC protocols to measure how much of the radiation gets through specific fabrics. Moisture can also impact a cloth’s UPF: Dry garments are generally more protective than the very same pieces once they are wet.

A garment isn’t considered sun protective if it has a UPF rating lower than 15, and to make the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, a voluntary understanding, it has to have a rating of at least 30 from one of these independent bodies. (Likewise, although any sunscreen technically offers some skin protection, the American Academy of Dermatologists recommends SPF 30 and over.) A UPF value above 50 does not provide considerably improved protection, so instead of reporting UPF 100, or UPF 500, which seems impressive but signifies nothing, many manufacturers simply record 50+.

Of course, a few non-UPF-rated clothes –such as clothes you likely already possess –can shelter you from sunlight, too. You”don’t need to buy UPF clothes for all the time,” Haimovic explained.

If you are looking to dress with sun safety in mind, here are a few general qualities to think about:

  • The tightness of the fabric’s weave: as you may anticipate,”a tightly-woven bit with smaller holes involving the ribbon, like denim, will offer more protection than one having a open weave, such as a crocheted shawl,” Haimovic clarified.
  • Color and thickness of this cloth: Thicker, darker fabrics are more protective than thin, mild ones. A lightweight, 100 percent cotton white T-shirt has a UPF of around 5.
  • Material composition: Synthetic substances are better at protecting against UV radiation than natural ones.
  • Substance fit: When a garment stretches from the skin, there’ll be bigger gaps in the fibers, and much more light (and radiation) will reach you. Looser fits offer more protection (and more breathability, too).
  • Coverage: Obviously, whether your garment is UPF-rated or not, the more skin it covers, the more skin it can protect. (Think more sleeves, wider brims, and so on.)

Covering yourself head to toe in lace would be highly protective, but unless you love to sweat or profoundly believe from the sartorial allure of a Canadian tuxedo, it is probably impractical for spending a great deal of time in the sun because that material also traps heat and moisture. For covering up comfortably, UPF-rated garments is generally lighter and more breathable, and–particularly using the Skin Cancer Foundation seal–provides guaranteed protection.

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