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The Benefits (and Drawbacks) of SPF Clothing

June 18, 2022

Who should be wearing SPF clothing? (Hint: it’s everyone)

A couple of posts ago, we mentioned SPF clothing and since then have received lots of feedback and questions.  I am thinking that because I have small kids AND am in the skincare industry, SPF clothing is just something I think everyone knows about but… probably not the case.

First, I think I should mention that although I have referred to it as SPF clothing in the past, that is actually not the correct terminology. The proper term, although WAY more underused, is UPF. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and each UPF piece of clothing you look at should be rated. Its UPF rating means that it has been tested to determine the amount of penetration by ultraviolet rays on that particular cloth.

The rating, in my opinion, is a little confusing. A UPF rating of 50, for example, means that 2% (1/50) of ultraviolet rays can penetrate that item of clothing. Or 98% of UV rays are blocked wearing a shirt with a UPF of 50. I believe it is easiest to just look at UPF ratings the same as how you would rate sunscreens. The higher the number, the better.

But – UPF clothing is expensive! Is it worth it?

Here is the thing – I don’t like people to spend money unnecessarily. But I also don’t like sun damage and at the end of the day, I am more sun conscious than I am cheap. With that, here are my thoughts on UPF clothing.

All clothing will provide a certain amount of sun protection. So wearing a simple white t-shirt is more UV protection than wearing a bikini. But that white t-shirt has 2 draw backs. White clothing does not provide as much sun protection as a darker colored shirt. A white t-shirt will give you a UPF rating of about 5-10, so lots of Ultraviolet Rays are still sneaking through that material. Would you feel really protected wearing a SPF 10 sunscreen? Probably not.

Wearing a black t-shirt is better, maybe about a solid 10. But it is black and absorbs heat so is that something you really want to wear in the sun? Again, probably not.

The second drawback to wearing “normal” clothing as a form of sun protection is that most of the time, the weaves are heavier than the manufactured UPF clothing. “Normal” clothing is not specifically designed to provide sun protection so it will be heavier weight than a UPF piece of clothing.

BUT – the other side of the story is this. UPF clothing does not last forever. After many uses and washes, the UPF element wears out. Typically, you will have roughly a 1-2 years of use. Not because the protection “wears out” per se, but because after many washes and uses, the threads in the material thin out and more UV rays are allowed through.

Main take away: 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 86 percent of melanomas are caused by UV radiation. So whatever you do – you MUST protect your skin from UV Rays. I coat my kids in sunscreen, make them wear sun shirts and hats and have them sit in the shade whenever they are not in the pool. Yes, they may think I am not the coolest now, but when they are 46, they will thank me.

How to choose the right UPF clothing:

A fabric must have a UPF of 30 to qualify for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. A UPF of 30 to 49 offers very good protection, while UPF 50+ rates as excellent.

Here are some brands that we have found to not only be stylish but more importantly, effective:


Lilly Pulitzer

Mott 50

There are so so many, but these are ones that for me, as a mom and a woman who occasionally likes to look put together, I like both for myself and my kids. In a pinch, you can always go to Amazon and pick out anything with a HIGH HIGH UPF rating – like 50+.

One quick tidbit – don’t forget to protect your eyes from UV damage which can lead to macular degeneration and subsequent blindness. So make sure you and your kids are wearing UV protection sunglasses when in the bright, glaring sun. 

And, in case you have never heard it from us before (yeah right!), wear your sunscreen, wear a hat, stay OUT of the sun as much as possible and… drink your water. Pretty please. 



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