All that time you’ve spent applying sunscreen may not help prevent skin cancer if you don’t think about protective clothing as well. Clothing works two ways to protect us from the sun. First, it in-effect provides shade which protects us from the UVB (burn) rays of the sun. It also is a barrier against the UVA (aging) rays, but a light colored shirt only has an UPF of about 6. (UPF is Ultraviolet Protection Factor, a rating for how well clothing protects from both UVA & UVB rays.) Darker colors absorb more UVA as do heavier fabrics, but in the hot summer or tropical sun? Yuck!
Over the past 10 years, awareness and technology have created a market for sun protective clothing for kids and adults. To get beyond the single digit UPF of summer clothes, clothing manufactures adjust the weave, color, weight and stretch of the fabric and include UV absorbers in the material. As a result, these clothes can cover more of the body and provide more sun protection while still being comfortable in water or hot, humid weather.
Where can I find UPF clothing?
UPF clothing for kids’ swimwear is available almost everywhere now in a variety of styles and prices. Rash guards, or lightweight, quick dry shirts with UPF of 50+ can be purchased at discount stores for as little as $8. Sun suits, or rash guards that cover most of the body can be found in specialized stores online. Increasingly swim suits themselves are made with a UPF of 30 or greater. Search online for “UPF clothing” “UPF swim” or “sun protective” to get an idea of what’s available where and for how much.
Everyday UPF clothing for kids, a.k.a. play clothes, sadly is very limited. Land’s End introduced a Sun.Life line of UPF clothing in 2009, but have since discontinued it (ahem, please bring it back!) Cabana Life has a few UPF clothes but in light colors
Mirielle I could never keep clean. SunDay Afternoons, Coolibar, Tulips & Turtles, NoZone, REI and other companies are adding beyond-the-beach clothing for kids, but it is still very limited and sells out quickly.
For adults, the selection of UPF clothing is more extensive and growing. Columbia, ExOfficio, REI, North Face, Patagonia, Mott 50, Athleta, athletic gear companies, and more are including UPF clothing in their lines. The style is improving and important to me, you can get long UPF 50+ shirts and pants that breathe well enough to be worn in 80/80 weather. (over 80 degrees and over 80% humidity).
What does Mirielle wear?
Hats with a 3-inch brim from Cabana Life most of the time and a baseball hat for soccer (though I should probably get a full brimmed hat with a strap instead.). A good sunhat should stay on when a kid plays tag while shading the face down to at least the chin (preferably down to a crew neckline.) I picked the Cabana Life hats for Mirielle because they are washable, reversible, cute, and have wide brims.
Beachwear. I have bought below the knee & elbow UPF 50+ sun suits to go over cheap swimsuits at Target, eBay, Costco and miscellaneous online sales. In the past couple of years, I have accumulated a bunch of Cabana Life matching rash guard and swimwear sets on sale so, that is the staple right now including a matching terry cover up. They wash well though the bright colors fade in chlorine pools.
Play Clothes. Right now Mirielle doesn’t have any UPF rated play clothes, because I want nice looking clothes that able to hide a little dirt and there isn’t much out there this year. I am tempted to buy a couple of women’s extra small, slim cut shirts for her outdoor summer camp this year.
Sunglasses. This is where I have failed Mirielle so far. We have a couple of 99% UV protection sunglasses that I picked up at a ski shop in Squaw Valley, but they keep getting lost. I naively assume that with Mirielle’s rigorous hat wearing, she can skip the sunglasses.
What does Mom wear?
Hat. The only mom/daughter matching clothing I own are my Cabana Life hats. I also have a crushable Mountain Hardware UPF wide brimmed straw had and and SF Giants baseball hat. All of them can be stuffed in a suitcase and I keep one in my car for forgetful days.
Beachwear. My first rash guard was an XCel purchased for surf camp. Over the years, I’ve added a couple from Athleta. I was shopping for a new swim suit last year and realized it doesn’t matter what I get because most of it will be covered by the rash guard. I got a Cabana Life terry cover-up as well, but it usually doesn’t make the cut when packing light.
Play Clothes. Last year I got to buy a new wardrobe after losing almost 50 lbs (go me!) I started with the Athleta summer sale and supplemented with a few fun pieces from REI’s summer sale. Almost all of the clothes I picked out were UPF 50+ including skirts, dresses, t-shirts and very lightweight jackets. Not purposefully, all of the clothes I packed for my India trip were Athleta UPF 50+ (and matched well with the clothes I bought in India.) When will they make kids clothes with the same level of style, comfort and sun protection?
Sunglasses. After years of sub-$20 (aka breakable/loseable) glasses from Target, under my eye doctor’s recommendation, I upgraded to polarized lens sunglasses that cost about $120. Not to jinx it, but I’ve had them over a year and a half without losing or damaging them and love wearing them.
Where to do find Sun Protective Clothing for your family? What is the most important sun protection to you? Do you think the sun-paranoia is overblown? What does a parent have to do to get fashionable UPF 50+ clothing for kids?