Guide to UV Shirts: Play Longer Without Getting Burned
We all know that exposure to the sun can damage our skin in the short term and cause skin cancer down the line. But covering up with sunscreen is often easier said than done, and it’s not something you think to put on if you’re already wearing a long-sleeve shirt. Plus, how often do you assume you have sunscreen on hand, only to find it’s gone missing? Probably frequently enough that “sunscreen” would be the number one answer on Family Feud for “Things You Thought You Had On the Boat, But Didn’t.”
Sunscreen is the best way to protect against the sun's harmful UV rays, since it can comfortably cover every inch of exposed skin. But sun shirts (or UV Shirts) are the easiest.
What Is a Sun Shirt?
A sun shirt is any clothing top made of special fabric designed to prevent at least 97 percent of UV rays from reaching the skin. UV garments, including sun shirts, are available in different Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) ratings, which represent what percentage of UV rays are blocked by the fabric — UPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UV rays, while UPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UV rays. The UPF rating may look familiar to sunscreen users, as the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) follows the same scale, with SPF 30 blocking 97 percent of UV rays, etc.
Sun shirts come in different styles, but the most common are lightweight, UV-blocking crews, hoodies, and button-downs. The most recognizable sun shirt (and the current trend) is the lightweight hoodie, often in a pastel or neutral color. But sun shirts don’t have to look like athleisure wear. Since the UV-blocking properties are in the fabric itself, a sun shirt can come in any design, like polo shirts or more dressy sport shirts.
What Are Sun Shirts Made Of?
Sun shirts are most commonly made of nylon, polyester, or another synthetic material. The key to the shirt’s ability to block the sun is how tight the individual fabric fibers are woven. Looser weaves allow for more light particles to pass through the gaps between the fibers, while tighter weaves block more light particles. Nylon and polyester are the best material for UV shirts because the fibers allow for a tight weave, without creating a fabric that’s too stiff or heavy, making for lightweight shirts that cover your skin while keeping you cool in the sun. That’s right, even with its tighter weave and full coverage, the lightweight fabric in a sun shirt is not hot, even in summer. And because of the higher thread count, UV shirts often feel luxurious, like high-end performance clothing.
How Long Do Sun Shirts Last?
Because the fibers in your UV shirt will stretch and break down over time with regular wear and washing, expect it to last between one and three years, depending on use. In that time, the UV-blocking properties will degrade as the weave loosens, allowing more light to pass through the gaps in the weave. To get the longest life out of your sun shirts, follow the washing and drying directions that come with the garment, which usually suggest using a gentle detergent, and never machine drying the shirt.
Sun Shirts vs. Regular Shirts
You might think that if sun shirts block the sun, then regular shirts must not provide any protection at all. Or, if we’ve been wearing regular shirts for millennia without problems, then we don’t need sun shirts. In fact, regular shirts, like those made of cotton, do block some of the sun, but not much of it. The loose weave in most cotton shirts blocks only about five percent of UV rays, which doesn’t even register on the UPF scale.
As we’ve learned more about the negative effects of sun exposure, and as UV exposure across the globe has increased over recent decades, it’s become increasingly important to protect your skin. With sun shirts more widely available and even becoming a trend among active outdoor communities, it’s never been easier or more comfortable to protect yourself from UV exposure.