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UPF clothing vs. regular clothes: How much sun protection do you have?

One of the most reliable ways to protect your skin from exposure to ultraviolet rays is to wear clothing that has an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating.

The main difference between UPF clothing vs. regular clothes is that UPF-rated accessories and garments are tested and proven to block specific percentages of UV light transmission.

Learn more about what sets UPF-rated garments apart from other clothing and find out how to choose accessories and clothes that provide the maximum level of sun protection.

Sun protection in UPF clothing vs. regular clothing

Clothing that has a UPF rating may be made of natural or synthetic materials. Natural lignans (fiber associated compounds) in unbleached cotton absorb UV rays, and shiny textiles such as satin and sink reflect some solar radiation. 

Some fabrics are naturally sun-protective even if they aren't explicitly UPF-rated; for example, densely woven materials provide more protection from UV rays than loosely woven ones.

In addition to generally having tightly woven fabric, UPF-rated clothing may also be treated with nontoxic chemical UV light absorbers or dyes that prevent UV rays from penetrating through to the skin. These types of UPF-rated garments are rated for a set number of washes.

For example, many UPF garments provide the stated level of sun protection for 30 to 40 washes.

What to look for in UPF clothing vs. regular clothes

UPF ratings are the primary factor to consider when selecting accessories or clothing for sun protection. It is important to note that Sun Protection Factor and UPF ratings only account for the effectiveness of sun care against UVB rays.

Here are effective UV transmission rates for the most common UPF ratings:

  • UPF 15 transmits 6.7% of UV rays
  • UPF 30 transmits 3.3% of UV rays 
  • UPF 50 transmits 2.0% of UV rays

When shopping for coverups, you should consider the level of protection the accessories or garments will provide. Always follow care instructions to prolong the sun protection properties of UPF-rated clothing, and keep an eye out for any stretching or wear, which may lower its effectiveness.

The advantages of UPF clothing vs. regular clothes

Advances in material science and clothing design have led to the development of more comfortable and protective UPF-rated garments and accessories.

Studies show that the protection provided by UPF clothing vs. regular clothes is often underestimated. Testing for sun-protective garments assumes constant exposure to direct sunlight, whereas real-life conditions, such as the angle of the sun and availability of shade, can increase sun protection.

Clothing with UPF ratings provide a higher level of guaranteed protection than regular clothes.

A plain white t-shirt has an approximate UPF rating of 4-7, which drops to 3 if the material becomes wet. In contrast, a UPF shirt, if rated to be UPF50, should remain protective when wet. 

The best ways to shield your skin from UV rays are to wear clothing and accessories that have sufficient UPF ratings and apply sunscreen to exposed skin.

Choose UPF clothing vs. regular clothes for greater protection

When deciding between UPF clothing vs. regular clothes, you should try to select accessories and clothing that fit your lifestyle and provide the level of sun protection that you need.