Does UPF Clothing Really Work?

UPF Clothing Effectiveness People Walking

Most people believe that as long as they are physically covered by a fabric, they are protected. All clothing has some UPF value. However, what most people don’t know is that the average t-shirt generally has a UPF value of 1-5. Does UPF clothing really provide that much more protection than everything else? The short answer: yes!

10x the Protection of the Average T-Shirt

UPF clothing is designed specifically with sun protection in mind. If you compare a UPF 50 long sleeve shirt to a standard cotton long sleeve shirt you’d be surprised how differently they function. They might fit the same and cover the same amount of skin, but the UPF 50 shirt only allows about 2% penetration of damaging UV rays. An average cotton shirt at UPF 5 allows 10 times the UV penetration of the UPF 50 shirt.

Consistent, Reliable UV Protection

Unlike sunscreen, a sun protective shirt will keep you protected for as long as you are wearing it, no reapplication needed! If you purchase quality sun protective apparel, it will also last for years—saving you a lot of money in the long run. The cost savings are even higher if you are wearing a UPF 50 long sleeve shirt instead of a short sleeve shirt, keeping you from having to apply sunscreen on your arms every time you go outside. One quality UPF shirt can save you from buying dozens of bottles of expensive sunscreen.

Even with the Best UPF Clothing, Sunscreen Is Still Needed

Even with a high quality UPF 50 long sleeve shirt parts of your body are still exposed. The back of your hands, neck, and face will still need protection. A long sleeve shirt will help provide maximal coverage and reduce the amount of sunscreen needed. However, you still need to pair your sun protective shirt with a high quality sunscreen. This is critical to make sure all areas of your body have proper protection. 

When purchasing a sunscreen, make sure you are getting the right one. ALWAYS make sure the sunscreen is broad-spectrum to protect you from UVA and UVB rays. Also check on statistics like it’s water resistance rating and whether it’s a spray or lotion. If you are going to an area that requires reef-safe products ensure that it meets those requirements as well. If you need more help choosing a sunscreen and want to learn more about the chemical makeup of the different options, the video below is a great summary:

Do You Wear Sunscreen Under UPF Clothing?

Light Representing UPF Fabrics

While there is no need to wear sunscreen under your UPF 50 long sleeve sun shirt, you may want to consider it for other articles of clothing. UV radiation can penetrate clothing, but it all depends exactly how much. This might seem like a ridiculous idea, but it’s actually something more people should be considering. Below are some situations when you should and shouldn’t consider applying sunscreen underneath your clothing:

If Your Shirt Has a UPF Rating Listed:

Should you wear sunscreen underneath? No need.

A long sleeve sun shirt with a UPF 50 rating means you are receiving the equivalent protection of a sunscreen with an SPF 50 rating. So in this situation – no, it’s not necessary to also wear sunscreen underneath your clothing. Oftentimes people choose to buy a sun shirt because it allows them to go about their day without having to apply sunscreen. It always keeps you covered, never needs reapplication, and is also a very comfortable option. If you already have proper UPF gear, no need to lather up with sunscreen as well (except for any exposed areas like the hands and face).

No UPF Rating Listed, But You Think Your Shirt Is Sun Protective:

Armor UPF Protection

Should you wear sunscreen underneath? It depends.

Without proper lab testing, it’s very difficult to determine exactly how much protection you are getting. If you can hold a fabric up to a light and absolutely no light can get through, it’s likely that it is providing superb protection. However, this is not always the case. Even UPF 50 long sleeve sun shirts allow visible light through, but it still provides excellent UPF protection.

Below are some of the other factors to consider when determining if you are receiving enough UV protection. If you are looking for more information on this topic, our post about which fabric block UV rays helps provide more specifics.

  • Fiber Material: Certain fibers like nylon, polyester, and bamboo often have a higher UPF value than cotton
  • Fiber Construction: A tight weave with less space between threads results in better protection.
  • Fit: Loose-fitting apparel is preferable to tight. The tighter the apparel, the more likely it is to stretch and allow UV rays through.
  • Style: The more coverage the better. A hooded long sleeve sun shirt not only protects your torso, but your neck and arms. 

A Typical Cotton Shirt

Average Cotton Shirt, No UPF

Should you wear sunscreen underneath? Yes.

If you are wearing a generic cotton shirt and are going to be out in the sun, you should apply sunscreen underneath. The reason UPF shirts exist at all is because the standard cotton shirt simply does not provide proper protection. You might only be receiving a UPF protection of 1-5, which is well below the dermatologist minimum recommendation of 30. In this situation, you should certainly wear sunscreen underneath your shirt. UV exposure is linked to skin cancer, and there’s no need to risk it for a subtle inconvenience.

At Rayward Apparel, all of our products are rated at UPF 50+. All of our products and individual color variations have been tested and certified, providing our customers the peace of mind knowing they have proper protection. While protective, our products are also designed with functionality in mind. Our SUN BOUND collection of athletic shirts are built to perform as well as they protect. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your comfort to keep your skin safe.

Does All Clothing Have UPF?

Variety of Clothes, do they have UPF?

UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor, the degree to which a fabric protects you from UV rays. All fabrics have some level of protection, but without proper testing it’s impossible to know the exact UPF rating. Continue reading to learn the role of UPF ratings in UV protective clothing.

How Do I Know If My Shirt Has a UPF Rating?

Generally speaking, if a fabric has been tested to determine it’s UPF rating you will see it somewhere on the fabric itself. It may be fused onto the inside of the shirt, or on the tag. In addition, you can also quickly look it up online to see if the UPF rating is listed in the description. If you’ve checked all of those areas and still cannot find the UPF rating, it’s likely it was never tested. While most UV protective clothing goes through the extra steps of verifying it’s rating, it’s a costly process. Most clothing without UV protection in mind will not have the fabric lab tested, and thus will not have an official UPF rating.

What Is the UPF of a Cotton Shirt?

As mentioned previously, without proper testing it’s impossible to provide an exact number. There are a lot of different factors that impact a shirts UPF rating, so every shirt is different. However, a good rule of thumb for a fairly standard cotton shirt is to assume a UPF rating of about 5. UV protective clothing has a minimum rating of UPF 15, so 5 is far below anything professionals would consider ‘protective’. The following video provides a great summary of the difference a UPF rated shirt can provide versus your standard cotton shirt:

What Is Considered a Good UPF Rating for UV Protective Clothing?

The ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) sets the standard for the different UPF ratings in the United States. They published the below chart, which determines the ‘protection category’ of different fabrics based on the UPF rating:

UPF RatingProtection Category% UV Radiation Blocked
UPF 15 – 24Good93.3 – 95.9
UPF 25 – 39Very Good96.0 – 97.4
UPF 40 – 50+Excellent97.5 – 98+

In summary, anything below UPF 15 does not even receive a protection category and is not considered UV protective clothing. At Rayward Apparel, we only sell apparel that has a UPF 50 rating or better, ensuring our customers are properly protected. 

You may be more familiar with SPF, as it’s the rating given to sunscreens. As far as the actual rating number is concerned, they represent the same level of protection. So a UPF shirt provides the same degree of protection as an SPF sunscreen, but there are some differences which you need to be aware of:

Is UPF The Same As SPF?

Umbrellas, UPF vs SPF

UPF is the rating given to fabrics, whereas SPF is the rating given to different sunscreens. The number itself is the same, it determines the protection factor in which it blocks UV rays. However, there is one major difference which is important to keep in mind: UPF is inherently broad-spectrum – it blocks both UVA and UVB rays. SPF on the other hand, only rates it’s effectiveness against UVA rays. So when buying UV protective clothing, no need to check for a “broad-spectrum” statement. But, when you are buying sunscreen make sure it’s labeled as “broad-spectrum” so you get full protection. Both UVA and UVB rays are linked to skin cancer, so you should definitely be protecting yourself from both.

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