Clothing and sun protection
Clothing is a barrier between your skin and damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It is one of the most effective ways to protect your skin from the sun; unlike sunscreen, it can’t be wiped or washed off!
When choosing clothes to protect your skin from UV radiation, consider the clothing’s style, fabric, colour and UPF rating.
- Shirts with collars or high necks, and sleeves
- Trousers or longer shorts and skirts that come to below the knees
- Clothing that is loose rather than stretched across the skin
- A wide-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire-style hat to protect the face, neck and ears. For adults, the brim should be at least 7.5cm or more, and for children, it should be 6cm. For children under 10 years of age, the brim should be proportional to the size of the child’s head and provide shade for the whole face. Baseball caps are not recommended, as they do not protect the ears, cheeks or neck.
Look for fabric that has a close, dense weave. Hold the garment up to the light, the less light that passes through the fabric the better protection it will provide.
- Synthetics or mixed fabrics usually have a tighter weave than natural fabrics. Look out for natural fabrics such as cotton, hemp and linen as they can also have a tight weave and are also lightweight and cool to wear.
- Stretched fabric (for example, tight fit clothing and knitted or elastic fabric), wet, or old and worn fabric may have reduced protection.
- Raffia and straw hats should be finely woven and should not allow pinpricks of sunlight to pass through.
- Dark colours (such as navy, black and dark red) absorb UV rays, and prevent them from reaching the skin better than white and light colours. However, closeness of the weave is still more important than the colour of the fabric.
- Avoid light-coloured hat brims that bounce sunlight back onto the face.
Ultraviolet Protection Factor
Clothing may be labelled with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). The UPF is a scale that rates how much UV protection the fabric provides; the rating does not apply to the style or design. Any fabric rated above UPF15 provides good protection against UV radiation. School uniforms, rashvests and clothing designed for outdoor workers, are likely to have a UPF rating. Fabric doesn’t need to have a UPF rating to provide good protection. However, it needs to have a minimum level of body coverage to display or claim a UPF rating (e.g. bikini swimwear is excluded from making a UPF claim due to the amount of skin exposed).
- Standards Australia – The Australian/New Zealand Standard for Sun Protective Clothing (AS/NZS 4399:2017) describes procedures used for measuring the UPF of fabrics and requirements for labelling UPF-rated clothing.
- ARPANSA – for more information on The Australian and New Zealand standard for sun protective clothing.