Does Sunblock Clothing Work?

Skin cancer is among the most common of all cancers. Sun exposure is a primary cause. Covering up when you’re outside can be a critical step in prevention.

Some clothing claims to have a UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, which is sort of like an SPF in sunscreen. Consumer Reports wanted to find out whether those clothes really work, and if they do, are they any better than regular clothes?

The $32 Coolibar Girl’s Rash Guard is embedded with titanium dioxide and promises a UPF of more than 50, meaning less than one-fiftieth of UV radiation can penetrate the fabric. When Consumer Reports put it to the test, the Rash Guard did deliver. It measured a UPF of 174, more than three times the protection it promised. It sounds really impressive, but it’s less remarkable when you consider that the other two shirts tested, which didn’t claim any UV protection, did very well, too.

For just about half the price, the Eastbay Evapor long-sleeve compression crew, made from the same polyester-spandex blend, delivered a UPF of almost 400. That’s more than twice that of the special shirt. And even the $13 cotton Hanes Beefy-T, which is thicker than a regular T-shirt, delivered a UPF of 115.

Consumer Reports also ran tests when the shirts were wet and judged all three to have respectable levels of protection, although the Coolibar Rash Guard was the only one to deliver increased protection when wet.

It’s important to note that all testing was done on new clothing that had yet to be washed or exposed to elements such as chlorine and salt water, which over time might affect the protection factor.

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