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Sun Protection Guide
WHAT IS UPF CLOTHING? A SUN PROTECTIVE CLOTHING GUIDE
Nothing beats being outdoors in the sun whether for work, play, or to excersise. Being exposed to the suns rays comes with many health benefits but also comes with some serious risks like sunburn, premature aging, and cancer.
Sun protective clothing - made with sun resistant fabrics - shield you from exposure to UV radiation while keeping you cool and dry. This guide will cover everything you need to know about UPF clothing:
- UPF vs SPF vs UV Protection: What does it all mean?
- Who needs sun protective (UPF) clothing and why
- The best fabrics for sun protection – UPF ratings of fabrics
- How UPF clothing works and what to consider when choosing yours
WHAT IS UPF PROTECTION?
UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and is a scale to measure how much UV radiation passes through fabric to reach your skin when exposed to the sun’s rays. UPF protection ratings apply to clothing like hats, shirts, sleeves, and pants that are meant to protect you from the sun.
UV Rays: Ultraviolet radiation, or UV rays, is radiation from the sun or artificial sources like tanning beds and is most damaging to our skin. UV rays come with many serious short and long-term health risks.
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UPF AND SPF?
The short answer: UPF is for clothing, SPF is for sunscreen.
Before the UPF system was approved by the FTC to measure the UV protection factor of fabrics, they were rated by SPF. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) has been around for many years as the commonly known measurement for the effectiveness of sunscreen products.
Ultraviolet Protection Factor
Measures UV blocking ability of clothing
Gauges percent of UV ray that pass through fabrics
Sun Protection Factor
Measures UV blocking ability of sunscreen products
Gauges time that you can be protected while exposed
SPF is a relative measurement of how much time a person can be exposed to UVB rays from the sun before getting burned —depending on the intensity of the sun conditions, skin type, the amount of sunscreen applied, and the frequency of reapplication.
UPF indicates how much of the sun's radiation is absorbed by a piece of fabric before reaching your skin. Unlike SPF, UPF measures protection rates against both UVB and UVA radiation.
UNDERSTANDING UVA AND UVB.
There are two main types of UV radiation that make it to us from the sun: UVA and UVB rays. The current SPF standard does not measure the amount of UVA protection – but UPF ratings for apparel measures both.
UVA radiation penetrates deep into the layers of your skin and is known to cause damage at the cellular level. UVA can also cause internal organ failure or affect your immune systems ability to do its job.
UVB rays play the biggest role in causing skin cancers like malignant melanoma. These types of rays are extremely powerful and tend to affect the top layers of your skin in the form of sunburn.
Sunscreen is a great tool to fight exposure to UV radiation and prevent sunburn, but it has its limitations. Reapplying takes effort and areas of skin are often missed, increasing exposure over time. Sun protective clothing has all of the benefits of sunscreen built into the fabric so there is no need to reapply, you can just keep working.
HOW DO UPF RATINGS WORK?
UPF labels are officially rated from 15 to 50+ with UPF50+ being the highest possible level of protection.
Good: UPF Rating 15-12 (93-95% UV Blocking)
Very Good: UPF Rating 25-35 (96-97% UV Blocking)
Excellent: UPF Rating 40-50 (97-98% UV Blocking)
Best: UPF Rating 50+ (98% or More UV Blocking)
So, what does UPF50+ mean? UPF 50+ clothing is the highest rated sun protective apparel. A fabric with an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF rating, of 50 allows only 1/50th of the sun's UV radiation to pass through it. It blocks 98% of (both UVA and UVB) rays from reaching your skin, significantly lowering your risk of sunburn, permanent skin damage, and cancer.
DO ALL CLOTHES PROTECT YOU FROM UV RAYS?
Not quite. A standard cotton t-shirt commonly has a UPF rating of only 5-7 which means roughly 20% of available UV radiation passes through to your skin, putting you at risk for all the consequences of sun exposure.
Sun protective clothing with a UPF rating of 30 or more is highly recommended, and required to qualify for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. Anything below UPF 15 is not considered protective.
Always check your labels for an authentic lab-tested UPF rating for peace of mind on its true UV protection level.
SUNTECT’s sun protective work clothing is lab-tested for UPF 50+ protection.
WHAT MAKES A FABRIC SUN PROTECTIVE?
There are many contributing factors that determine how sun protective a fabric is. The goal is to find a fabric that is both highly sun protective but also keeps you cool, dry, and confortable while you are outside.
- Construction: Thicker, denser, or more tightly woven fabrics may transmit less radiation.
- Color: Darker and more saturated, or brighter and more reflective colors, are also considered more protective.
- Material: Some fabrics are more naturally UV protective and breathable than others.
- Treatment: Some chemicals and dyes are specially formulated to absorb UV light and can be added to less naturally protective materials to enhance their UPF.
Ultimately, the type of fiber your clothing is made from will have the biggest impact on how protective it will be against UV rays. The UPF rating of these fabrics may further diminish as they become wet, worn, or stretched out.
- Excellent natural UV disruption: Polyester, Nylon
- Moderately effective UV disruption: Wool, Silk
- Low UV disruption without treatments: Cotton, Rayon, Flax, Hemp
DOES UPF PROTECTION WASH OUT OF CLOTHING?
How long do UV shirts last? As long as a normal shirt –or even longer if made with functionality and durability in mind. The best UPF clothing will remain relatively unchanged as a result of washing—until it declines simply because the fabric becomes worn or faded. This is why it’s best to choose apparel made from fabrics that are inherently UV protective.
BEWARE- Some companies have been known to use a topical chemical application that achieves a higher UPF rating but it washes out after only a few uses. Quality sun protective clothing will have 3rd party tests completed to ensure they meet expected guidelines over an extended period of time. SUNTECT apparel is guaranteed UPF50+ for the lifetime of the garment.
WHY IS UPF PROTECTION IMPORTANT?
In the short term, exposure to UV radiation without UPF protection can lead to sunburn and rashes. This can develop into wrinkles, leathery skin, liver spots, actinic keratosis, and solar elastosis, as well as various forms of cancer.
Nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer each year in the United States, at an estimated annual cost of $8.1 Billion. More people get skin cancer from indoor tanning than lung cancer from smoking.
Immediate and long-term health risks that tie back to exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation include...
- Heat Rashes
- Rapid Aging
- Deadly Skin Cancer
- Eye Irritation
- Vision Deterioration
Every year, American businesses lose more than $100 Million in productivity because of restricted activity or absence from work due to skin cancer. The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) requires employers to minimize risks of harm to employees. In some states, employers may be required to provide workers' compensation to employees who get skin cancer because of sun exposure on the job.
Outfit your team with SUNTECT gear for durable, lightweight UPF 50+ work apparel.
WHO NEEDS SUN PROTECTIVE CLOTHING THE MOST?
Everyone can benefit from enhanced protection against UV exposure, but for some people, UV protective fabrics should be considered essential when outdoors.
- People Who Work Outside: A day on the job should never be dangerous because of the sun. Roofers, construction workers, site managers, landscapers, foresters, groundskeepers, dock workers, public works crews, valet attendants, truck drivers, and anyone else who works out in the sun for any portion of their day should wear UV protective clothing.
- People Who Live in High Altitudes: People in geographic areas with high elevation –and therefore thinner air– will be exposed to more intensely damaging rays. UV Radiation is 25% stronger for every 1000ft in elevation.
- People Who Are Near the Equator, Snow, or Beaches: UV rays are strongest near the equator since the path from the sun to the earth is shorter and more direct. The sun’s rays intensify when they reflect off of surfaces like snow and water, too.
- Young children and older adults: Children and the elderly are at greater risk of sun exposure and its health risks because their skin is typically thinner and more sensitive. UV damage accumulates over time, so children will often not experience the long-term consequences of childhood sun exposure until much later in life.
- People With Lighter Pigmentation or Prone to Moles: Lighter skin means less melanin, which will allow skin to burn and freckle more easily. People with darker pigmentation will have more melanin, which will offer more natural UV protection but they will still be at risk and may even have a harder time spotting sun damage.
- People Taking Medications or with Health Conditions: A wide range of drugs, such can increase sun sensitivity. These can include acne treatments, antihistamines, antibiotics, certain anti-inflammatories, and even herbal supplements Other health conditions like Lymes disease and diabetes can also increase your sun sensitivity.
HOW DOES UPF CLOTHING WORK TO PROTECT YOU?
Don’t let sun protection stop at sunscreen and sunglasses. UPF clothing enhances your protection from the sun by blocking up to 98% of harmful UVA and UVB rays. Consider the risks of being in the sun and cover up appropriately with these following UPF garments.
UPF Hats and Neckwear
Hats, hoods, scarves, neck gaiters, and collared UPF shirts can keep you comfortable while covering your head and neck from the sun’s rays. The back of the neck is considered one of the most neglected skin areas. In cold, snowy environments gaiters can also serve as a lightweight, comfortable form of protection for your neck and face from winds and the elements.
- Look for lightweight, wide-brimmed hats
- Hats won’t fully replace sunglasses, use both
- Shirts with collars can be flipped up as needed
UPF Shirts, Vests, and Pants
UPF shirts or rash guards protect you by covering your skin without restricting movement or airflow so you can be protected from sun exposure without risking heat rash. A shirt with UPF 50+ is the best
option; it allows only 1/50th of the sun's harmful UVA and UVB rays to get through to your skin.
- Look for loose-fitting or breathable shirts
- Opt for long-sleeves for maximum coverage
- Try antimicrobial fabrics to reduce odors
- Consider durability and fade resistance
UV Sunglasses and Contact Lenses
Eye irritation, vision deterioration, and cataracts are all serious health threats. UVA and UVB rays from the sun can have an extremely harmful effect on your eyelids, corneas, lenses, and retinas. Look for sunglasses labeled UV 400, which protects your eyes from 100% of harmful ultraviolet rays.
- Look for UV protection and polarization to avoid glare
- Full eye protection requires wraparound designs
- Some contact lenses can be made with UV protection
At the beach or in the pool, rays that reflect off the surface of nearby water can become intensified. Since swimming already involves little covering from the sun, it’s critical to apply and reapply sunscreen while wearing UV-safe swimwear.
- Pair with broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
- Cover up with a UPF shirt when you’re not in the water
- Seek shade and don’t forget about sunglasses
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN UPF WORK APPAREL
If you work in an industry that works outside sun protection is vital to the safety of your team.
The sun shouldn’t slow you down, stink you out, or stop you from doing the work you love. When you have a job to do, you need to be able to move freely and comfortably while being protected from harmful rays.
Look for products with the following attributes:
- UPF Rating
Not all UPF shirts are created equal.
SUNTECT has developed technical fabrics that have a tight weave but still allow the fabric to breathe, dry quickly, and provide antimicrobial properties. Explore our collection of UPF 50+ work apparel.