The Best SPF Clothing to Keep Your Skin Healthy, According to Dermatologists
Yes, applying sunscreen head to toe is still important to reduce your risk for skin cancer and prevent burns. But doubling up with sun-protective clothing can be the ultimate one-two punch to keep your largest organ (AKA skin) looking as healthy, radiant and young as possible.
"There's a direct correlation between UV radiation exposure and skin cancer. As useful and important as sunblock is, clothing is our first line of defense against UV radiation. The protection it provides is easy and immediate, with no need to wait for absorption or remember reapplication," explains Channa Ovits, M.D., a dermatologist at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, New York. "Wearing clothing with good coverage can allow us to enjoy the outdoors without increasing our risk of skin cancer and skin damage."
UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, measures how much UV radiation a fabric lets through to your skin. And clothing items with this feature are especially useful for kids ("who might not stand still long enough to be slathered in sunblock," according to Dr. Ovits) and those who are on the go.
As more clothing manufacturers are clued in about its importance—and the customer demand—the market is growing rapidly, Dr. Ovits confirms.
"Today, sun-protective clothing, made to maximize the UV protection a garment can provide, is cuter and more comfortable than ever," she says.
What to Look For in the Best Sun Protection Clothing
"The more coverage you get with your clothing, the better off you are, which feels counterintuitive in the summer," Ovits continues, but "even small changes can make a big difference" to combat sun damage on skin. For example, instead of wearing a tank top, try a short sleeve one. For long-term outdoor activities such as gardening and hiking, long sleeves and long pants are optimal (if you won't overheat). And remember that your best bet is to wear these clothing picks with a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
Seek out sun protection clothing with "UPF 50 that offers full coverage and is made with a tighter weave and darker colors," Dr. Lain recommends. "Natural fibers such as cotton tend to absorb the rays, whereas synthetic fibers reflect, making the latter cooler on the skin."
Densely-woven fabrics like canvas or denim, or tightly-woven synthetic fabrics have a higher UPF factor than cotton and are better at keeping the sun out.
"A garment with a UPF factor of 50 blocks 98% of the sun's rays and you should be looking for a UPF of at least 30 to get good protection," Dr. Ovits says.
As you're looking to invest in sun protection apparel, try this simple test: If you can see through the fabric, UV radiation is getting through, too. And remember, if the clothing is stretched or wet, it reduces its ability to block the sun; "a white tee shirt provides a UPF of about 7- get it wet and it drops to a UPF of 3," Dr. Ovits adds.
While UPF clothing is most important in summer when the rays are at their strongest, there's no reason not to rock these pieces all year—especially the non-swimsuit options that can easily transition to all four seasons.
5 Sun Protection Clothing Items to Add to Your Wardrobe
Coolibar Women's Sanibel Everyday Beach Shawl UPF 50
"Coolibar is one of the original sun protective lines and continues to lead in terms of innovation and style," Dr. Lain says. We're particularly fond of the brand's uber-versatile shawl that's easy, breezy and made for tossing over any top to keep your shoulders and back covered from harsh UV rays. (Psst...it's also amazing to tuck away in your travel bags to use as a wrap in chilly airplanes and restaurants.) Available in six different colors, this one-size-fits-all option is "lightweight, good for beach and out and about. I keep one in the car to throw over my left arm while driving. That side always gets more sun. Everyone should have one in the car."
Solbari Quarter Zip Top UPF 50 Active Collection
For a hike, bike or cooler-weather exercise, try this sun-protective activewear top. It looks just like a Nike or Under Armour garment—and costs about the same—but is hiding a skin-saving secret. "Solbari is another Australian company producing fashionable, lightweight high-UPF clothing at a fair price," Dr. Lain says. This lightweight, breathable long-sleeve top is available in seven hues, all of which have a high neck and thumb holes to protect even more of your skin. A fan describes this top as, "comfortable to wear, lightweight but not clingy. It has a good shape and design, plus it washes and dries easily."
Scodi Women's Surfing Leggings Swimming High-Waisted Tights UPF 50
To pair with those tops, we couldn't forget the bottoms. And we're head over heels for these flattering UPF leggings that are superb for far more than surfing. Rock one of the 11 high-waisted, ultra-stretchy leggings for yoga, running, walking, hiking, outdoor bootcamp classes or simply running errands. A user says, "The fabric is very well made, extremely comfortable. Although I have washed them countless times, they look brand new."
All in Motion Olive Green Pebble Print Women's Long Sleeve Mock Neck One Piece Rashguard
"A high-UPF bathing suit and cover-up at the beach is a smart way to minimize sun damage. I've even started wearing full wetsuits for water sports like stand-up paddleboarding," Dr. Ovits says. As far as standard sun protection swimsuits, Dr. Ovits adores high-neck and long-sleeve styles along the lines of this affordable Target rashguard that you can wear alone or with the swim leggings above. A user raves of this pebble print mock neck one-piece: "This is the best swimsuit that I've ever worn. So cute, comfortable and covered. I burn easily so it was time to accept that and find a cute suit with sleeves."
Coolibar UPF 50 Women's Catalina Beach Cover-Up Dress
For travel, beach days, a casual brunch with pals or simply running errands, this cover-up is equal parts cozy, cute and safe. It even comes with a hood to keep the back of your neck and top of your head covered from the scorching midday sun. "The material Is soft and stretchy...I live in Florida and just had a melanoma removed, so need the sun protection and wear it as a nightgown, dress, cover-up and robe on my patio when I'm sitting outside," says one fan who confirms this is "worth every penny. I'm a dermatology nurse and have shopped around for sun protective clothing and hands down Coolibar has the best clothing."