What Is UPF Clothing? The Ultimate Sun Protection Guide
How Does UPF Clothing Work?
Ultraviolet Protection Factor or UPF is a measurement used to test and determine how many ultraviolet rays a fabric allows through. There are two types of UV radiation accounted for in UPF tests, UVA and UVB. These tests result in a UPF rating displayed on the clothing you buy, for example, you will see a tag or label stating UPF 50 or less.
So, what does that mean? A rating of UPF 50 shows that a clothing fabric allows only 1/50th of UVA and UVB rays through it. Without it, your skin will get 50 times more UV exposure. The higher the number, the better; a larger fraction means a smaller amount of light will pass through a fabric.
UPF vs SPF
Now that we understand sun-protective clothing, how does UPF compare to SPF in sunblock? Sun Protection Factor or SPF is a measurement to determine how long it will take for someone to get sunburned. For example, SPF 20 means that it will take 20 times longer to get sunburned.
Let's say you take 5 minutes to get sunburned, but you applied a thorough layer of SPF 20 sunblock. This sunblock should protect you for 100 minutes. However, it is important to note that unlike UPF ratings that measure both UVA and UVB rays, SPF ratings only measure UVB.
Other problems you will find with sunblock and SPF ratings are that they come in many forms; thick creams, thin creams, and sprays. How do you know how much to put, and how do you know when to reapply? Worst of all is not applying an even amount and ending up with sunspots all over your skin.
UPF rated clothing easily solves these problems. My favorite solution of all was no longer needing to have sunscreen on my hands. Trying to fish with slippery hands is a hassle. Not to mention most sunblocks have dangerous chemicals in them that are ruining our coral reefs!
Is UPF Clothing Necessary?
Believe me, UPF clothing is not a gimmick. After wearing these clothes for a few years, you will notice the difference. Once I started wearing UPF shirts, my torso went back to its normal color and then I noticed how dark my face and hands had gotten. That’s when I started fishing with buffs and gloves to cover my complete body from the sun while out on the water.
Who Should Wear UPF Rated Clothing?
- If you fish, you should be covering your entire body with UPF clothing. Things like water and snow reflect the sun's rays, doubling the exposure and damage.
- If you have very fair skin or are a child with thinner skin, you are more vulnerable to the sun's UV rays.
- If you are or will be at higher elevations, we know that the sun's intensity is greater in these environments.
- If you are on medications, double-check the side effects tab, it may make you more prone to sunburn.
- If you have a darker skin tone, the melanin in your skin will allow you to be in the sun longer before being burned. However, this leaves many darker-skinned people with the assumption they don’t have to protect themselves from the sun and this is false. Although your skin isn't being burnt, it’s still being damaged by the UV rays and continued unprotected exposure can you leave you at high risk for skin cancer.
How To Wash UPF Rated Clothes?
Proper care of your UPF rated clothing is the most important part of your protection. The first step, how to wash your UPF clothes? You want to use cold water and your machine's delicate or handwash cycle. Use no bleach or strong chemicals, you want to use very mild laundry detergent. Look for products that have no perfumes or dyes and say for soft skin or babies.
UPF rating will not get washed out. However, you must wash after every use of chlorine, which will damage the fibers if left to sit and dry in. It’s also imperative to rinse any potential stains out immediately from the inside out with cold water. If you rinse from the outside in or with hot water will just aid in the staining process.
The best method of drying is to lay it out on a towel overnight. However, if there is no time to do so, you can machine dry on the coolest setting and the most delicate setting. These simple care techniques will ensure the most life out of your favorite UPF garments.
How Long Does UPF Rating Last?
Like any clothing, UPF clothing will last many, many years. However, how long will this advertised UPF rating hold? This is a very complex question and depends a great deal on how you care for the clothing. A fabric is said to hold it’sUPF rating for about 2 years of regular use.
We should adjust this based on your practice. If you fish once a week and cycle between a couple of shirts, you can probably account for well over 2 years of life. Inversely a fishing captain that guides multiple days a week might want to cycle through shirts yearly for the ultimate protection and longevity.
How To Make UPF Ratings Last Longer?
- Follow washing and drying instructions.
- Promptly wash/rinse after or near chlorine use.
- Never wring out a drenched fabric.
- Cycle through a few shirts every use.
- Keep a close eye on wear and tear.
The main purpose of these countermeasures is to avoid stretched or fading fibers in the fabrics that will allow more sun through. Although this happens with all clothing materials and it is still fine to wear, you will want to get new UPF clothing when these signs of wear arise for the ultimate protection.
You can find my favorite UPF clothing here: Southern Fin Apparel. I love the new hooded fishing shirts specifically for sun protection; they are incredible, and I will never fish another day without one!