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Sun protective clothing

Last reviewed: June 2023

Authors: Dr Libby Whittaker, Medical Writer, New Zealand (2023)
Previous contributors: Vanessa Ngan (2006)

Reviewing dermatologist: Dr Ian Coulson

Edited by the DermNet content department



Sun protective clothing is an effective way to shield skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation, sunburn, and sun damage. They also protect the skin from visible light.

Exposure to UV radiation contributes to skin ageing and is the main cause of skin cancer (eg, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma). Sun protection methods, including sunscreen and sun protective clothing, are important in reducing these damaging effects.

Sun protective clothing ratings and regulations

Ultraviolet protection factor (UPF)

Sun protective clothing is manufactured from UV-protective fabric. The commonly accepted measure is UV protection factor (UPF).

UPF, similar to SPF (sun protection factor) used to rate sunscreens, is the rating used to measure the UV rays that pass through fabrics when exposed to UV radiation. For both UPF and SPF, the higher the number, the greater the protection (eg, UPF 50 blocks 98% of UV radiation). 

Sun protective clothing will lose its effectiveness over time, but can generally be expected to last 1–2 years with normal wear, tear and laundry. 


Regulations in Europe (EN 13758-2), Australia (AS 4399:2020), and New Zealand (AS/NZS 4399:2017) specify body coverage requirements as well as minimum UPF in order to be designated as sun protective clothing.

In the United States (US), sun protective clothing guidelines are provided by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC 183) and the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM D6603 and ASTM D6544). Under these guidelines, minimum body coverage requirements have not yet been established.

European guidelines require a higher UPF of at least 40; while in the US, Australia, and New Zealand, minimum protection is UPF 15. 

Garment protective factor (GPF)

Another less commonly used scale for rating the sun protective ability of clothing is garment protective factor (GPF), based on UV protection properties and body surface area coverage: 

  • GPF 0-3: Minimum protection.
  • GPF 3-6: Good protection.
  • GPF 6+: Excellent protection. 

Protective fabrics

It is not always necessary to buy clothing made from specially manufactured sun protective fabric, as a wide variety of everyday apparel will provide some protection. 

Fabrics that still provide some sun protection

  • Specially manufactured fabrics for sun protection with UPF ≥15 (UPF ≥30 recommended).
  • Blue or black denim jeans.
  • Merino wool garments.
  • 100% polyester.
  • Shiny polyester blends.
  • Satin-finish silk of any weight.
  • Tightly woven fabrics.
  • Unbleached cotton.

To assess protection, hold the material up to a window or lamp and see how much light gets through. Less light filtering through means greater protection.

Darker colours provide more protection than fabrics of the same material in light colours.

Fabrics that provide less effective sun protection

  • Polyester crepe.
  • Bleached cotton.
  • Viscose.
  • Knits, especially loosely woven.
  • Undyed, white denim jeans.
  • Threadbare, worn fabric.

Many fabrics, including special sun-protective clothing, will have their protection reduced, some by as much as half, when they get wet. This is especially true for wet cotton.


  • Choose clothing made from tightly woven fabrics, those that offer better protection such as 100% polyester, and/or those with a UPF ≥30.
  • Choose clothing that facilitates sun protection for a greater area of skin, including:
    • Hats that shade the face and neck
    • Shirts or tops with long sleeves, and high collars or necklines
    • Long pants or skirts
    • Enclosed shoes.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing — the folds in loose clothes improve sun protection, whereas tight clothing can spread fibres further apart and allow more UV light to reach the skin.
  • Put on dry clothes after swimming or getting wet
  • Wear dark coloured clothes — this provides around five times more protection from the sun than white clothing, as dye helps to absorb ultraviolet rays.
  • Consider washing clothes with detergents that contain optical fluorescent brighteners to make clothes appear whiter or brighter. These act like dyes and improve the UV absorption of fabrics.
  • Use sun protective clothing in conjunction with sunscreen for exposed areas of skin, and stay in the shade when possible.



  • Boothby-Shoemaker WT, Mohammad TF, Ozog DM, Lim HW. Photoprotection by clothing: A review. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2022;38(5):478-488. doi: 10.1111/phpp.12776. Abstract
  • Downs NJ, Harrison SL. A comprehensive approach to evaluating and classifying sun-protective clothing. British Journal of Dermatology. 2017;178(4):958-964. doi: 10.1111/bjd.15938. Journal
  • Gambichler T, Hatch KL, Avermaete A, Bader A, Herde M, Altmeyer P, Hoffman K. Ultraviolet protection factor of fabrics: comparison of laboratory and field-based measurements. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2002;18(3):135-140. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0781.2001.00739.x. Journal
  • King K, Javornickzy J, Gies P, McLennan A. Changes to the Australian and New Zealand Standards for sun protective products including clothing, sunglasses and shade fabrics. NIWA UV Workshop, Wellington, 4-6 April 2018. Available here
  • Lu JT, Ilyas E. An Overview of Ultraviolet-Protective Clothing. Cureus. 2022;14(7): e27333. doi: 10.7759/cureus.27333. PubMed

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