Explaining Sun Protection Fabric

Clothing made from sun protection fabric will protect you better than that “Old White T-Shirt”

As you would assume, all clothing provides some level of protection; however there are many factors that affect how well a piece of clothing will protect you.

Research has proven that not all fabrics, especially summer weight fabrics offer enough protection from the sun.

One simple way to find out if your favorite t-shirt or sundress has any sort of sun protection is to hold it up to a window or lamp and see how much light gets through.

If you don't see much light penetrating, it's probably providing decent protection. If you can easily see through it, most likely it's not providing much protection at all.

Sun protection fabric is simply fabric that protects the skin from(UVR)ultraviolet radiation.

The following features affect the natural level of sun protection provided by any fabric.

  • Weave
  • Color
  • Weight
  • Stretch
  • Wetness
  • Content
  • Age
In addition:
  • Chemicals can now be added to improve the overall UV protection of less protective fabrics.

You will never know how much protection any fabric provides unless it's been tested, and only fabric that has been tested can be labeled UPF.

Use the following guidelines to estimate a NON-TESTED fabric’s protectiveness.

Weave: The tighter the weave the better...

If a fabric is very tightly woven or knitted there are fewer “holes or spaces” for UVR to sneak through to your skin.

  • Tightly woven fabric = Canvas, twill and denim
  • Loosely woven fabric = Mesh, voile and crepe

Color: The dyes used in fabrics typically absorb some UV rays.

  • Darker colors use more dye so they absorb more UV radiation and provide better protection
  • Un-dyed fabric does not provide much protection at all
  • Lighter colors reflect visible light, but UV radiation passes through the fabric to your skin
  • Many detergents contain brighteners that make clothing look cleaner and whiter and these act like dyes. Repeated washings can slightly increase the UV absorption of the fabric.

The two most important characteristics of sun protection fabric are a tight weave and dark colors.

Weight: Also means thickness – thicker fabrics absorb more UV rays

Stretch: When a fabric gets stretched out, the holes between the yarns open up and the UV rays can get through to your skin.

Wetness: Just think “wet t-shirt contest” - fabric becomes less protective.

Content: Natural vs. Synthetic.
  • Cotton feels cool in the summer heat, but untreated, it ranks last in UV protection. However, cotton treated with a UV finish can be very protective
  • Polyester, nylon and other synthetic fibers often have UV absorbers because their chemical structure boosts their sun protection

Age: Vintage is in – but not in sun protection. Only wear that favorite concert T-shirt with some sunscreen underneath

Chemical Additives: The addition of chemicals such as UV absorbers and UV blockers can be added during the manufacturing process. These advances in technology have created a new wave of sun protection fabrics that are sophisticated, lightweight, cool and easy to wear. SunGuard is a wash-in additive available at your local supermarket.

Some of the earliest fabrics on the market to make the claim “sun-protective” were made of tightly woven, lightweight nylon and polyester. They contained no special chemical treatments. Synthetic fibers are naturally nonabsorbent and can be worn in the water without getting heavy. They are quick drying too. The garments made were similar to the surfer’s “Rash Guard” and made for beach and water use.

Is sun protection fabric FDA regulated? - NO -

Currently, there are no U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for sun-protective clothing or fabric.

A group of pioneers in the industry came together to set up testing guidelines:

To qualify and standardize the UPF rating system used in the United States, manufacturers turned to two organizations:

  • The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) and
  • The American Association of Textile Chemist and Colorists (AATCC).
Learn more about the stringent testing protocols used to determine the UPF value of sun protection fabric and clothing here.

Sun protection fabric and clothing is not considered a medical device and therefore is not regulated by the FDA. However, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) oversees advertising claims. If a manufacturer claims a garment or textile is sun-protective and lists a UPF value, it better be able to prove its claim.

Are the specially treated UV protective fabrics really better at protecting the skin?

The answer: It depends on the garments design:

For example, let’s say a manufacturer is using chemically treated UPF rated cotton to make a sleeveless polo shirt. Why would you buy it and not protect your arms?

Specially treated "sun protection fabrics" generally provide additional technological advances in textiles such as:

  • Moisture wicking
  • Antibacterial properties
  • Cooling assistance
  • Breathability

    The whole point of using UPF fabrics in sun protective clothing is to cover a large amount of skin, with a comfortable, lightweight fabric. However, if the garment is sleeveless, backless and short – why bother?

    There are so many new design features in UV protective apparel. Find out what to look for when choosing your sun protective clothing.

    Can anyone purchase sun protective fabric?

    I went to a few fabric stores and asked about UPF fabrics, I mostly got strange stares from the sales person. I did find one fabric that was listed “Sun-protective” – it was for window décor.

    However, searching the internet for sun protection fabric, I did find the Solar Protective Factory. They sell both woven and knit fabric in a variety of colors and weights.

    Heavy and darkly dyed fabrics are naturally more sun-protective, as well as many lightweight “100% synthetic” textiles.

    However, these fabrics usually make heavy, non-breathable garments which are uncomfortable in the hot summer sun.

    Recent breakthroughs in textile technology continue to add protective features to apparel that will not only save lives, but will some day be the norm.

    Now that you know all about sun protection fabric, find out about apparel made specifically for, children, swimming and sporting activities by checking out our shopping guide.

    Stay alive and well with Sun-Protection-and-Products-Guide.com