Swimwear and Sun Protection

Posted by tan xiao yan on

It used to be that we were carefree when lying around on the beach under a scorching hot sun. That's because we didn't understand the dangers. We are now more aware what dangers are presented by too much exposure to the sun. Everything from minor irritation to more serious problems such as blistering and in some cases even skin cancer. The good news is though that because we are more educated regarding the dangers of sun exposure there are more things available to help us combat the effects. At the end of the day, sunburn is to be avoided and should never be allowed to occur with children. A lot of people make the incorrect assumption that a t-shirt will protect them or their children's skin. This, in most cases, is simply not the case.

Most clothing will act as a barrier of some from the sun but the problem lies in the area of UV, or ultra-violet radiation from the sun. A standard t-shirt will probably give you the equivalent sun protection factor of somewhere between 7 and 15. This is much reduced if the t-shirt gets wet. This is way below the recommended minimum protection you need.

The sun is at its strongest usually between 10am and 4pm. During these hours the best thing to do is carefully limit your exposure.

So what should you look for from a Beach Garment with regard to protection from the sun? There are a number of things you should look for to get the most protection from your clothing.

Fabric Composition

You need to know what the garment is made from and look up what natural sun protection factor it will offer you. Different fabrics will give you different results.


A dense weave will give you more protection from the sun than a loose weave. So if you can find yourself a garment made from a fabric which has a high sun protection factor and is also woven densely then you are off to a good start. For example, a normal cotton t-shirt will give you less protection from the sun than one made from lycra.


You need to get the fit right. In the above paragraph I mentioned that lycra is better than cotton for protecting you from the sun, but you can undermine this advantage if you wear a lycra garment that is stretched too tightly.


This is important to be aware of because the chances are that if you are using garments to help protect you from the sun while on holiday, at some point they are likely to get wet. It is therefore important to understand that fabrics lose some of their sun protection ability when they get wet, depending on the fabric. The difference between fabric types is huge. For example a simple cotton t-shirt will absorb a lot of water and so its ability to fend off the effects of the sun are massively reduced. However, a sun garment made from nylon/elastane will not absorb water at all so its protection value is not diminished.


This one is fairly straight forward. The more skin coverage the garment affords you, the more protected you are. Its as simple as that.


Some dyes may absorb UV radiation more than others but the fibre and weave discussed above is much more important.


You may want to wear your trusty old t-shirt on the beach but you need to take into account that the more threadbare and worn out it is, the higher the chance that its sun protection capabilities have been reduced.

There are some things you can look out for now on garments that claim to have an ability to protect you from the sun. In Australia, New Zealand and the United States a UPF rating is used. This rating is used to describe how effective a garment is at blocking harmful UV radiation. The rating is expressed as a number, so, for example, a garment that has a UPF rating of 50 will allow through 1/50th of the UV radiation it received, or expressed another way, it will block 49/50ths. That works out to 98% effectiveness.

The other rating you will come across is SPF. This is the rating applied to sunscreens etc to give you an idea of how effective they are. Quite simply it is the difference in time needed to turn treated skin red in the sun when compared to untreated skin. So, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 allows someone using that product to stay out in the sun up to 15 times longer than they would be able to if they used nothing at all. Consequently, if you take ten minutes under the sun to start turning red, then you could stay out at the same time of day for about 150 minutes.

Although SPF is normally associated with lotions and creams etc, and SPF factor can also be applied to clothing made of different fabrics. To give you an idea, typically, nylon stockings have a sun protection factor of about 2. Hats in general have an SPF of somewhere between 3 and 6. Lightweight Summer clothing will be somewhere around 6. Specifically designed sun protection clothing can give you an SPF equivalent of up to 30.

So, it's quite clear that if protection from the sun is important to you, and it should be, then a combination of high SPF sun screens and specifically designed sun protective clothing will give you the best possible protection, aside from staying indoors that is.