Whether you’re cooling off at the beach or poolside, or out and about in the summer sun, covering up with clothing is a convenient way to protect your skin from Aotearoa’s harsh UV rays.
Why wear sun-protection clothing?
Exposure to UV rays contributes to skin ageing and is the main cause of skin cancer.
Some clothing is made from UV protective fabric and may make sun protective claims. But everyday clothing can also provide protection, depending on the type of fabric, and its colour and fit.
What to consider
Check for a standard. Look for sun-protection clothing that complies with the Australian/New Zealand standard AS/NZS 4399:2017 or Australian standard AS 4399:2020.
Check the UPF rating. Some sun-protection clothing claims to have an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). UPF is a measure given to fabrics that indicates how much of the sun’s UV rays it will block. A UPF of 15 gives minimum protection, UPF30 good protection, and UPF50/50+ excellent protection.
Body coverage. The more skin you cover, the more protected you are. Examples include a top with a collar or high neck and long sleeves, and long shorts, trousers or skirts. Hats should have a wide brim or flaps that cover the ears and neck. Broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire hats are best. Products that claim a UPF rating must meet minimum body coverage requirements, including:
- up to the neckline
- the torso
- three-quarters of the way down the upper arm
- half-way between the crotch and knee.
UPF rated hats must shade the crown, face, ears and neck.
This means a UPF claim shouldn’t be made on clothing such as bikinis, togs, singlets and crop tops. Caps and visors also don’t provide sun adequate protection, as they don’t cover the ears or shade the lower face.
Colour. Dark colours and intense bright colours give more protection than light ones. Bright colours also make it easier to spot your child.
Fabric type. Fabrics with a tighter weave (less space between the strands) give better protection. Shiny polyesters can be very protective because they reflect radiation.
Fabric thickness. The thicker or denser the fabric, the better protection. To assess protection, hold the material up to a window or lamp and see how much light gets through. Less light filtering through means greater protection.
Fit. Loose fitting clothing offers more protection than tight. Make sure rash shirts are a relaxed fit across the shoulders – stretching the material reduces its protection. But if they’re too big they can be difficult to swim in and uncomfortable when wet.
UV absorbers. Some clothing is chemically treated with UV absorbers so it can absorb more UV rays.
Wet or dry? Many fabrics, including UPF-rated clothing, offer less protection when wet.
When swimming, you should only wear clothing designed as swimwear. Swimwear is designed to be lightweight, repel water and dry quickly. Regular clothing, like cotton and denim, absorb water and make it difficult to swim and float.
Caring for sun-protection clothing
Sun-protection clothing – especially rash shirts, doesn’t last forever. The sun, chlorine, washing and stretching will reduce their sun protective properties over time.
Signs a rash shirt may not be protecting you properly are slackening of the fabric and loss of shape. Check your rash shirt when it’s wet for excessive stretching and transparency.
How to look after rash shirts.
Read the care label. Most labels advise rinsing after use. When washing, a hand or gentle machine wash is best.
Consider washing with laundry detergents that contain optical fluorescent brighteners. These improve the UV absorption of fabrics.
Dry in the shade.
Don’t roll rash shirts up or wrap them in a towel while still wet.