Good news for parents: sun protection that’s cheap, won’t wash off and won’t irritate children’s sensitive skins. It’s called a “rash top” … and it’s ideal for the beach or poolside because you don’t have to reapply so much sunscreen whenever the kids dash in and out of the water.

Rash tops were originally intended to protect surfers from rashes caused by rubbing against a surf board. They’re usually made from lycra, dry quickly and can be treated to provide protection against the sun’s UV rays.

Our test

We bought 10 rash tops and sent them to the Measurement Standards Laboratory of New Zealand to see how much protection they offered against UV radiation.

The lab measured each top’s UPF (ultra-violet protection factor).

All the rash tops in our test achieved a UPF of 50+. The Wave Tribe top for boys was the only top not to carry a label claiming UPF protection – even so it achieved a UPF of 50+.

Some of the tops we tested cost less than a tube of sunscreen (see our product table below).

What about adults?

Sun-protective clothing isn’t just for kids. If you’re working out in the sun or playing sport for long periods you need to wear cover-up clothing as well.

You can buy UPF-rated sun hats, sportswear and swimwear. Hats need to have a wide brim – the UPF-rating only covers protection to the head. When it comes to ordinary clothing, choose a design that’s long-sleeved and high-necked and a fabric that’s tightly woven and a darker colour.

Tip: Knit fabrics provide freedom of movement but the protection will be lower when they’re stretched. So go for a close knit that fits loosely, especially across the shoulders.

Also remember to protect exposed areas of skin with sunscreen – and regularly reapply it.

Of course, one of the best ways of avoiding skin damage from UV rays is to stay out of the summer sun between 11am and 4pm.

For more sunsmart information see www.sunsmart.org.nz.

Report by Bev Frederikson.