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Can You Get Sunburned Through Clothing? The Definitive Answer

Have you ever wondered if you can get sunburned through clothing? The answer comes down to a number of factors surrounding the type of fabric the clothing is made out of and the properties of that fabric. Not all clothing is treated equally.

For extended periods of time in the sun, it’s important to wear SPF on any skin exposed to the elements and consider the type of clothing you are wearing. There’s a misconception that you don’t get sunburned through clothing. 

Can You Get Sunburn Through Clothing?

So, can you get sunburned through clothes? The answer comes down to whether your clothes allow light to pass through. At a glance, your clothing may look like a physical barrier against the sun’s rays, but it really depends on the type of fabric you are wearing. 

As a general rule of thumb, if you can see light through your clothing, then sunlight can get through and cause sunburn. Below are some factors that determine the amount of sun protection your clothing offers.

  • Fabric type: synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon can reflect the sun’s radiation due to their sheen. 
  • Weight: the density of thicker materials reduces the ability of the UV light to pass through.
  • Weave: fabrics with a tighter weave have a better physical block to the sun compared to fabrics with a lighter weave.
  • Color: darker or brighter colors soak up more of the UV rays than lighter colors, allowing less sunlight to pass through to your skin.

The Solution: Clothes That Protect From the Sun

Clothes that protect from the sun are a great solution when it comes to avoiding skin damage and keeping cool. When searching for clothes to wear in the sun, you will likely notice UPF ratings. UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. It’s a rating system used for sun protective clothing, telling us how much of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays actually pass through. 

What SPF does clothing provide? Non-UPF clothing has an average UPF of only 5 to 10, and that number lowers to a UPF of roughly 3 when that clothing gets wet. At Coolibar, we set the standard with all of our clothing, hats, and accessories rating at a UPF 50+. This means that less than 1/50th of the sun’s rays will be allowed through the fabric. Our fabrics are guaranteed to block 98% of UVA/UVB rays, so you can live sun-safely in sun protection you wear. 

Does UPF Clothing Really Work?

How does UPF clothing work, exactly? Coolibar’s proprietary fabrics achieve sun protection starting at the most basic level: each tiny fiber.

  • Zinc Oxide: a main ingredient in sunscreen; this is permanently embedded into every fiber.
  • Titanium Dioxide: another mineral found in sunscreen and permanently embedded into every fiber, so it never washes or wears out.
  • Construction: a tight weave for maximum sunlight blockage.
Tip: Long Sleeves Are Actually Cooler

It may seem counterintuitive, but long sleeves are actually cooler in the sun. Long sleeves have a secret advantage on especially hot days. Particularly long sleeve shirts that are looser fitting on the body and have sweat wicking properties. This is true even for shirts that block the sun with a high UPF.

One reason behind this has to do with our sweat. Sweat is a natural bodily cooling mechanism, and long sleeves in a sweat-wicking fabric keep your skin drier than a short sleeve shirt. Long sleeves provide airflow between the fabric and your skin, almost like a wind tunnel keeping you even cooler. Additionally, the fabric on the sleeve provides a bit of shade to your skin that short sleeves do not. 

Clothing and Sun Protection FAQs

There are many misconceptions out there surrounding clothing and SPF protection. Since you can get a sunburn through clothes, it’s a good idea to educate yourself on the best protection methods. A combination of UPF clothing and sunscreen will safeguard you from sun damage. Here are some commonly asked questions surrounding clothing and sun protection.

Can UV Rays Go Through Clothes and Damage Skin?

UV light can go through clothes and cause damage to your skin, including sunburn. The best clothes to wear in the sun are those with a high sun protection rating. UPF shirts do work and will help prevent skin damage.

Can You Absorb Vitamin D Through Clothes?

If sun rays can go through clothes, vitamin D can be absorbed through them as well. There is a limit when it comes to a healthy amount of vitamin D, so protect yourself with proper UPF clothing and sunscreen. 

Does Denim Block UV Rays?

Due to the fabric qualities of denim, it provides more sun protection than other materials. The general thickness of denim helps to block UV rays, as well as its tight weave construction and generally darker color.

Does Linen Provide Sun Protection?

On the other end of the spectrum, linen does not provide much sun protection due to the nature of the fabric. The weave is much looser, and the overall weight of the fabric means that there is not much blockage from the sun. 

Explore More Sun Safety Tips in Coolibar’s Blog

Taking sun protection seriously means wearing sunscreen and incorporating UPF clothing into your wardrobe. Coolibar is the world leader in UPF 50+ fabric technology, so you can feel confident that your skin is protected. 

Living sun-safely is important. That’s why we developed the most technical, elegant sun protection you wear, so you can enjoy life under the sun. Check out our blog for more sun safety tips, and shop our latest styles for men, women, and kids & babies.

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