Gone are the days that you have to decide between asking someone to help apply sunscreen to your back or risk sun damage, thanks to a proliferation of UPF clothing. But with the proliferation of any product comes a host of questions about quality, efficacy, and if it lives up to the hype. And what is UPF, anyway?
UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) ratings, like SPF ratings, are regulated by the FDA, but the numbers don’t measure the same thing. UPF is rated by how much UVA and UVB radiation can get through the fabric to your skin, while SPF is a factor of time, rated only for UVB. A UPF rating of 50 means 1/50th of UV can get through—which equates to blocking 49/50ths, or 98 percent, of UV rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation rates UPF 50+ as excellent.
Any sunblock is only good if you’re wearing it, though, which means comfort and breathability (and looks) matter. Here are some tips on how to choose the right UPF top.
Zip On, Zip Off
Utility minded with places to stash for ID and money, cell phone and keys, plus thumb holes to keep damage-prone backs of hands covered, this zip-up top is UV ready. BALEAF
Consider features beyond fabric when it comes to UPF clothing, and what best suits your intended activities and preferences. For instance, if you’ll want to get it quickly on and off without pulling it over your head, or if you’ll want to cool off without taking it off, get a top that opens at the front.
Hands, ears, and necks will not go uncovered with this top, made from soft, moisture-wicking material with flat seams and no tag for no irritation. Mabove
Especially if you’re not supplementing with sunscreen, or you’re going to be out and unable to sufficiently reapply, consider the often-forgotten spots for sun damage, like the back of your neck and your ears, when selecting a UPF to. Worried the hood won’t stay up? A hair clip or two will do the trick.
Cut for Comfort
A pull-on top designed for an easy fit that won’t restrict movement, but without any excessive fabric that could get caught or weigh you down. BALEAF
When it comes to UPF tops, a casual fit, not a tight one, is best. The weave density of a fabric is where it derives much of its UPF abilities, and so if you’re stretching it tight to pull it on, you’re likely increasing the openings between fibers, thus effectively reducing the UPF. Besides, you’ll want some breathability beneath the fabric and freedom of movement.