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What is UPF and Why is Sun Protective Clothing So Important?

Protecting your skin with a physical barrier like clothing is one of the most simple and effective ways to prevent sun damage, though not all clothing is created equal. Understanding the UPF meaning and rating system is critical when shopping for sun protective clothing. 

Dealing with the aftermath of a sunburn from a long day at the beach can not only be painful and uncomfortable, but it can cause internal damage and increase your risk of skin cancer.  Preventing sunburn doesn’t have to involve greasy sunscreen and reapplication schedules. We’ll cover the definition of UPF sun protection, UPF vs. SPF, and the best clothing for sun protection so you can enjoy the outdoors safely.  

Find more great sun-safe tips and advice in our blog.

UPF Sun Protection: What Does It Mean?

You’ve probably noticed rash guards on more and more people at the beach, but did you know that there are nearly endless options for clothing that protects from the sun? So, what does UPF mean exactly, and what does it stand for? It stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and is the rating system used for fabrics. The higher the rating, the better the fabric’s protection against the sun’s spectrum of UV (ultraviolet) rays that can harm our skin. 

There are different electromagnetic waves around us all the time. All waves have energy and some are natural while other are man-made. Some are harmful and while others are not so harmful.

Ultraviolet spectrum is a part of the electromagnetic waves that are not visible and are produced naturally. They are harmful to the skin, and we need to protect ourselves from them.

If we don’t protect ourselves from these UV rays, energies from ultraviolet rays / waves can pierce through our skin and reach different cell parts affecting our chromosomes. The cells then behave abnormally, and the new cell creation are not in control, thus causing cancer.

Quality UPF clothing is made with UV wavelength in mind, preventing dangerous levels of UV from reaching your body. 

Later, we’ll go over the difference between SPF and UPF, one of the most common questions surrounding this topic. Aside from seeking shade at the beach, having UV protection of 50+ in your clothing is the best way to prevent sun damage for you and your entire family. 

  • Easy to Use
  • Even Coverage
  • Works Wet or Dry

What is UPF Rating

UPF rating is a system made to help users understand their clothing’s level of protection. At this point you are probably wondering what the numbers actually mean. What is UPF 50 compared to UPF 10? The numbers in the rating indicate how much of the sun’s UV rays are absorbed by the fabric, thus preventing them from reaching your skin. 

UPF is followed by a number, ex. UPF 50 means 1 out of 50 portion of the UV reaches the body. This means 1/50= 2%

If the product is mentioned as UPF 10, it means 1 out of 10 portion = 10% of the UV rays reaches the body.

UPF 20= 1/20 = 5%. 95% UV reaches the skin

UPF 30 = 1/30 = 3.3%

UPF 40 = 1/25 = 2.5%

UPF 50 is considered a good level of protection, i.e. only 2% reaches your body.

Does only a percent or a half percent makes a big difference? The answer depends on how long would you be exposed to UV rays. A small percentage difference for long period of time is significant.

Difference Between UPF and SPF

Let’s take a look at the difference between SPF and UPF. UPF is a rating system used exclusively for sun protection offered by clothing, while SPF (sun protection factor) is a rating system used solely for sunscreen. Similar to UPF, the higher the SPF rating, the better the sun protection for your skin. The most important differences between the two are listed below. 

  • UPF is the standard rating for clothing, while SPF is the standard rating for sunscreen
  • UPF applies to both UVA and UVB rays, while sunscreen applies to UVB rays only
  • UPF should not need to be reapplied to ensure protection, while sunscreen does

4 Things You Need to Know About UPF Protection

Not all clothing can be made UPF 50+.   

UV protection is better achieved with tight weaving/ knit, thick yarn, dark colors. It should not allow UV rays that have wavelength of UVA (315-400 nm) UVB (280-315 nm) to pass through the micro holes between the yarn.

  • Challenge: Not comfortable, heavy, does not let sweat pass through and limited color choices. Comfortable fabrics are normally light, thin.

Mesh fabric or loosely knitted / woven fabric cannot be used. Sometimes two layers of fabric or lining are used in hats to make sure that the UV rays do not reach the head.

  • Challenge: How to make a fabric that is both UV protection, comfortable and have all the colors like any other elegant clothing.

To achieve both, we have to study different fabrics and test it under a UV testing machine to find the right option. Many clothing company trust the fabric vendors who may or may not test the fabric well before the use, or it may not be tested regularly to assure that all the lots of fabric used are really UPF 50+. At Coolibar, we have tested many garments with this claim and sadly only 50% of them passed the real UPF 50+.

UPF Ratings Do Not Exceed 50+

UPF can exceed 50. UPF 50+ has a + sign which has a very significant meaning. It means over 50. This could be 100% coverage, i.e. not even a single portion reaches the body.

If a fabric allows only 1% of UV reaches the body, then it is 1/100 which is equal to UPF100. If it allows only 0.5%, then the rating is UPF200

Why is it not specifically called out? Currently, there isn’t an official rating for clothing that completely blocks all UVA/UVB rays, so the maximum rating given to any fabric with a UPF rating higher than 50 is 50+. 

Coolibar is the world leader in UPF 50+ fabric technology, so you can guarantee you are getting maximum sun protection with every purchase. Some of our fabrics even block out 100% of UVA and UVB rays! Be cautious of any clothing brand that lists a rating greater than 50. Neither of those are accurate or official ratings for fabrics.

  • Maximum rating is currently 50+
  • Coolibar offers the highest rated sun protection clothing
  • Watch out for brands claiming ratings above 50 

UPF Washes Out of Some Brands

UPF can wash out.  Cotton fabric shrinks after multiple washes, the holes between the yarn get smaller so there’s more UPF than before. If the garment is not well handled and gets stretched through different washing or drying process, the holes can become bigger and looses its properties.

Some fabric cannot achieve the UPF 50+ without a certain chemical treatment, especially light fabric, some fabric composition and specific light colors. If these chemicals are not well locked into the fabric construction at the time of manufacturing, and comes out after the wash, then the UPF level will fall. 

Instead, purchase confidently with our industry-leading fabrics. At Coolibar, our sun protective clothing blocks 98% of UVA/UVB rays and never washes or wears out, no matter how much you sweat or swim.  

  • Look for active ingredients infused in every fiber
  • Avoid spray ons or laundry aides
  • Coolibar’s sun protection never washes out

Look for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation

You have options when it comes to UPF clothing, but not all companies are backed by the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. It’s crucial to look for this seal, especially if you’re shopping for clothing for working in the sun or clothing for long days at the beach. 

The Skin Cancer Foundation’s seal is trusted worldwide, indicating safe and effective sun protection, and Coolibar was the first clothing company to receive it. To meet this recommendation, fabrics must have a minimum of UPF 30 protection. Coolibar goes above and beyond Skin Cancer Foundation-approved clothing with all products rated 50+.

  • Skin Cancer Foundation’s Recommendation awarded for safe sun products
  • UPF Clothing Must be at Least a 30 Rating
  • Coolibar’s Products Are the Highest Rated UPF 50+

Seek Out Brands That Rigorously Test Their UPF Products

Aside from the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal, continuous product testing is necessary to maintain product integrity year after year. Sadly, this is an overlooked step for many clothing companies. 

Look for brands who specialize in UPF clothing and have been focused on this as their main business mission for many years. There are brands who carry UPF clothing but it is only a small part of their brand and they do not take it that seriously.

At Coolibar, UPF is what we do. Brands that know UPF inside and out can explain their manufacturing and testing processes. They have the necessary tools and team to control their fabric and product process. It is worth paying extra money for reliability.

Brands with no obvious background in sun safety and claim to sell low price UPF 50+ clothing should not be trusted. It can be very dangerous. If you wear these types of clothing regularly, you may end up regretting it when you have to visit your dermatologist.

We have a rigorous testing process for all our fabrics. We test multiple times against the world’s highest rating standards for UV transmittance and safety. We also perform life cycle tests to ensure that even after laundering, exposure to sunlight, and chlorinated water, your Coolibar clothing offers the same sun protection. 

  • UV Transmittance and Safety Testing
  • Life Cycle Testing
  • Coolibar’s Fabrics All Meet the World’s Highest UPF Standards

Explore our UPF clothing for men, women, and kids!

Why is Coolibar the Best Sun Protective Clothing Brand?

Coolibar’s 100% business is Sun Protection products for different users. We’ve been in the business for more than 20 years and all users have appreciated our reliability.

We have invested in multiple UV testing machines and all our offices throughout the world have these machines. Each machines cost more than $30,000.

Each fabric lots are tested at the time of approval for first usage and then each lot of fabric for bulk production thereafter. We allow the vendors to cut the fabric only when the test is done. We can trace each garment back to each lot of fabric used.

Before selecting a fabric to be used in our styles, we test the fabric before wash for UPF 50+, then we do 40 cycles of wash and expose it to 100 hours of xenon light simulating real sunlight and then retest again for UPF 50+. We can confidently say that our UPF50+ is guaranteed for lifetime of the garment.

We also take into consideration the design of the products. For example, to help manage perspiration, we use mesh fabric in our clothing but not in places where there is direct exposure to sunlight. We add technical features such as thumb hole, high collar, etc. to provide extra sun protection.

Shop Coolibar’s High Quality, Technical, Elegant Sun Protection You Wear

Whether you are embracing the Coastal Grandmother trend or shopping for a new look for your next garden party, Coolibar has you covered with the highest rated UPF 50+ clothing on the market. You don’t need to sacrifice style or comfort with our highly technical and elegant clothing for the entire family. 

Coolibar is the industry leader in UPF fabric technology, trusted and recommended by dermatologists worldwide. Discover more sun safety tips on our blog from our team of experts!

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September 23, 2022

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