workwear and uniforms with sun protection

Garments that Protect from the Sun

During the summer months people naturally choose garments that will keep them cool during the day but those same garments may be opening the door to skin damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Just as sunscreen protects skin from sunburn, fabric blocks the amount of UV that is passed through to the skin but it’s important to note that not all fabrics filter UV radiation the same way.

The amount of protection in sunscreen is measured in its Sun Protection Factor (SPF). This rating determines how long a person can stay in the sun before getting a sunburn. Fabrics have an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) which is a measure of the amount of Ultraviolet radiation blocked by the fabric.

UPF Rating Protection Level Percent of UV Rays Blocked
UPF 15-24 Good 93.3-95.9
UPF 25-39 Very Good 96.0-97.4
UPF 40-50+ Excellent 97.5-99+

Courtesy of the Melanoma foundation

Many factors determine a fabric’s UPF rating. Tighter woven fabrics offer more protection than those with an open weave. Darker colors tend to absorb more UV than light colors. Polyester does a good job of reflecting UV. Silk and wool provide moderate UV protection while cotton, flax and rayon have the least protection. In addition, chemicals can be added to a fabric that will absorb UV.

How a garment is used can also vary the amount of UV passed through to the wearer. Correct size of the garments is important as stretching a fabric can reduce the protection by up to 40%. Getting a garment wet can reduce the protection factor by 30% so quick dry and moisture wicking may be characteristics to look for.

Mabel Kwock, Ash City Director of Design & Merchandising, noted that disclosing a garment’s UPF rating is mandatory in New Zealand and Australia and may be regulated in North America in the future. She says “Just holding a fabric up to light will not give you a true idea of the protection the garment offers. It is best to rely on companies that have tested their fabrics in a lab environment.”

Understanding the factors in a UPF rating allows you to make better decisions when selecting corporate image wear and uniforms. This gives you an advantage whether selecting a polo for a golf tournament or a uniform for employees that work in the sun.