10 Best Sun Protective Clothing Reviewed and Compared

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We all hear about how damaging the sun’s rays can be but trying to squeeze runs into busy schedules makes it a little too easy to justify skipping the sunscreen. Running in a long sleeve shirt on a hot day sounds even less appealing. However, considering the sun exposure over a lifetime of running outside may get you motivated to seek some cover when you head out the door. Most notably, UV rays can damage skin cells at the cellular level. This causes mutations in the DNA that could potentially lead to skin cancer. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 86% of the more dangerous melanomas are associated with UV exposure. Scary as cancer can be, it is not the only reason to take cover from the sun. UV rays can damage skin in other ways as well. Sun damage also causes the appearance of premature aging, wrinkles, sunspots and scaly skin growths called seborrheic keratoses.

So, if you are serious about getting some easy sun protection, don’t be too quick to reach for any old shirt. The average cotton T-shirt will reduce UV exposure by about 80%. This is a good start but, for around the same price, you can find apparel that is specially designed to reduce UV exposure by over 98%. Not only does this clothing provide more effective protection but it also is designed with the summer heat in mind. This apparel often utilizes fabrics and unique design features that keep you cooler than if you were wearing nothing at all.

 

ExOfficio Sol Cool Ultimate Hoody
  • ExOfficio Sol Cool Ultimate Hoody
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • UPF 50+
  • Price: See Here
Vapor Long Sleeve
  • Vapor Long Sleeve
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Anti-microbial
  • Price: See Here
Coolibar UPF V-Neck
  • Coolibar UPF V-Neck
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • 10 color options
  • Price: See Here

 

10 Best Sun Protective Clothing

 

1. ExOfficio Women’s Sol Cool Ultimate Hoody

This well-constructed and stylish sweatshirt provides maximum sun coverage. The addition of thumb loops and a 3-panel scuba hood offers protection for the hands and neck as well. The Xylitol-infused fabric and mesh vents keep you cool during any workout and a bonus zippered pocket is also ideal for storing cards and cash during a run.
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Coverage:
This sweatshirt offers maximum sun protection with a UPF of 50+. Additional features such as thumb loops and 3 panel scuba fitted hood provide extra coverage for the back of hands and neck.

Construction:
This durable hoody is made from 91% polyester and 9% spandex. The material feels slightly thicker than others on this list but it will not weigh you down or cause you to overheat. Users are pleased with the well-made construction and note this sweatshirt washes easily and dries quickly without holding onto stains.

Fit:
Runs true to size and should fit a bit loosely. Those looking for a tighter fit may consider sizing down as the spandex in the material will give it a nice stretch.

Comfort:
The small amount of spandex gives this top some nice elasticity, so it will move with you but not lose its shape. The fabric is largely polyester and the fibers are infused with Xylitol, naturally found in birch trees, which can cool surface temperature up to 5 degrees. Additional mesh panels under the arms and on the back of the hood provide some ventilation and breathability.

Style:
The cowl-necked hoody and ties at this side give this sweatshirt a bit more style than your standard workout shirt. However, the contrasting mesh panels do remind you that it is activewear. It has a flattering but comfortable fit and is available in a few light colors.

Value:
This top does run on the expensive side but many feel it is worth it for the durable design and stylish look.
Pros
  • UPF 50+
  • Thumb loops to protect hands
  • 3-panel scuba hood protects face and hands
  • Zippered back pocket for cards
  • Infused with Xylitol to cool you down
  • Ventilation panels
  • Moisture wicking fabric
Cons
  • Price
  • Polyester hangs onto odor

2. Vapor Apparel Men’s UPF +50 Long Sleeve

This long-sleeved shirt provides effective sun coverage. The material has anti-microbial properties and is lightweight and moisture-wicking to keep you protected and comfortable even on hot days.
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Coverage:
UPF 50+ fabric that covers the entire upper body from the neck to the wrists.

Construction:
This shirt is 100% microfiber. The dense fabric feels lightweight and breathable but still provides effective sun protection. Vapor guarantees 99.92% UVB block after 25 washes.

Fit:
This shirt has a trim fit that is more fitted around the shoulders and chest but looser at the waist. It is not a compression shirt but it is a bit more form fitting than the typical men’s long sleeve. It also tends to run a bit long, especially in the larger sizes.

Comfort:
The soft and lightweight construction is breathable and comfortable for any temperature. The microfiber fabric is infused with PURE-tech moisture wicking fabric to help keep you cool and dry in the summer heat. It also features a zinc-based anti-microbial shield to help reduce odor and extend the life of this shirt.

Style:
This shirt is fairly basic when it comes to design but it is available in 18 colors.

Value:
This shirt is mid-range compared to others on the market.
Pros
  • Lightweight and moisture wicking fabric keeps you cool
  • Anti-microbial zinc shield
  • UPF 50+
Cons
  • Fit does not work for everyone

3. Coolibar UPF Women’s V-Neck

This shirt has zinc oxide, the same ingredient found in sun block, infused in every strand to provide excellent sun protection. The construction is very soft and lightweight to keep you cool and comfortable on a hot day.
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Coverage:
This long sleeve shirt with a slight V-neck has UPF 50+ protection and covers the arms and torso completely. The sleeves tend to run long to protect the backs of hands as well.

Construction:
ZnO SUNTECT fabric is made of a blend of cotton, viscose from bamboo and spandex with particles of zinc oxide in every fiber. Because the zinc oxide is part of the fabric, it will not wear or wash out. This shirt is machine washable.

Fit:
This long sleeve shirt is slightly fitted so it has a nice shape while still remaining loose and breathable. The sleeves do tend to be a bit long but the extra length provides some additional coverage for the hands. The slight V-neck is very conservative. It gives a flattering shape while still providing plenty of sun coverage for your chest.

Comfort:
This lightweight fabric is very soft and keeps you cool despite the long sleeves. The design is perfect for a hot summer day or as a winter base layer.

Style:
This simple shirt has a flattering fit without being too tight. It also comes in 10 solid colors.

Value:
This shirt is a bit pricier than the budget options but it will provide reliable sun protection through many washes.
Pros
  • Keeps you cool
  • UPF 50 and long sleeves
  • Slightly fitted
  • 10 color options
  • Machine washable
Cons
  • Pricey
  • Sleeves run a bit long

4. ExOfficio Women’s Sol Cool Hooded Zippy

4. ExOfficio Women’s Sol Cool Hooded Zippy
This jacket provides maximum UPF protection with a hood and thumb holes to cover the neck and hands. Despite being a jacket, this treated fabric will cool skin up to 5 degrees upon contact with moisture. Three security zip pockets can fit a passport making this jacket perfect for travel.
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Coverage:
This jacket offers great protection from harmful UV rays with a UPF of 50+, thumb holes to cover hands and a hood for optional neck coverage.

Construction:
The 91% Polyester and 9% Spandex knit provide the perfect combination for a quick-drying but elastic jacket.

Fit:
This semi-fitted jacket runs a bit large and has some nice stretch from the spandex material. Most women love the extra room and slightly longer length so they don’t have to keep pulling the jacket down as they run.

Comfort:
Many buyers report feeling cooler wearing this jacket than having bare arms. This is due to the signature Icefil® treated fabric that features Xylitol, a compound also found in the birch tree, that is woven into the fibers. This, along with the polyester works to wick moisture away and cools skin up to five degrees.

Style:
Strategically placed seams give this jacket a flattering, contoured look while still maintaining a looser fit. Unfortunately, only limited color options are available.

Value:
This quality jacket is a bit on the expensive side.
Pros
  • UPF 50+
  • Xylitol-infused fibers have a cooling effect
  • Full coverage including hands and neck
  • 3 security pockets
  • High quality
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Limited color options

5. Columbia Men’s Terminal Tackle Hoodie

5. Columbia Men’s Terminal Tackle Hoodie
This high quality fishing sweatshirt is great for exercise as well as casual wear. With a UPF of 50, long sleeves and a hood, it provides effective and lightweight sun coverage that will not cause you to overheat.
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Coverage:
This UPF 50 shirt minimizes UV exposure with long sleeve and a high neck to provide some neck protection even when the hood is down. The streamlined hood is also small enough to fit under a hat for additional coverage of the face and neck.

Construction:
100% polyester fabric is lightweight but durable.

Fit:
This light sweatshirt runs quite a bit large. Follow buyer advice by ordering a size down and you will still have a loose-fitting hoodie.

Comfort:
Many users report feeling cooler in this lightweight hoodie than when wearing no shirt at all. The polyester fibers work to wick moisture away from skin and provide a cooling effect as they evaporate.

Style:
This hooded sweatshirt has a slightly loose, but flattering fit. It comes in 12 solid color options with a large contrasting “Columbia” brand name written down the left sleeve.

Value:
The price is mid-range but does runs quite a bit higher than many of the budget options. The high quality look and stylish design make this top worth the investment.
Pros
  • UPF 50
  • Streamlined hood for neck coverage
  • Moisture wicking
  • Stylish
Cons
  • More expensive
  • No hand coverage

6. Hanes Women’s Sport Cool DRI Performance Tee

6. Hanes Women’s Sport Cool DRI Performance Tee
Affordable sun protection for the areas that need it most. This semi-fitted shirt covers the chest and shoulders while leaving your arms uncovered to let them breathe.
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Coverage:
This t-shirt provides a maximum UPF rating of 50+ and covers the easy-to-burn areas such as the chest and shoulders.

Construction:
This 100% polyester shirt has a tight jersey knit to protect from the sun. The lightweight material is very thin and the lighter colors have a tendency to show whatever you are wearing underneath.

Fit:
This shirt has as tailored fit that works well for most women. However, some find it to be a bit too structured in the shoulders.

Comfort:
The fabric is lightweight and moisture-wicking making it a great option for days you know you will sweat. Being 100% polyester, this shirt does not have much stretch.

Style:
These basic t-shirts have a tailored fit that is more flattering for women than your average tee. It is available in a few classic color options.

Value:
These shirts are inexpensive and a great basic for any workout wardrobe.
Pros
  • UPF 50+
  • Covers shoulders and chest
  • Quick-drying
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Arms are exposed
  • No stretch
  • Fit is awkward for some
  • Material is very thin

7. Tesla Men’s HyperDri Short Sleeve T-shirt

7. Tesla Men’s HyperDri Short Sleeve T-shirt
Lightweight and affordable exercise shirt that offers maximum sun protection for torso and shoulders.
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Coverage:
This T-shirt provides maximum sun protection with a UPF of 50+ and covers the easily-burnt shoulders while leaving your arms open to the fresh air.

Construction:
100% Polyester

Fit:
These shirts run a bit large so most people buy a size down. They are more fitted in the shoulders and loose around the torso.

Comfort:
The loose fit of this shirt provides unrestricted range of motion and great breathability. The lightweight, polyester fabric wicks moisture away from the skin to keep you cool during exercise. Additionally, flatlock stitching makes for smooth seams that will not cause chaffing.

Style:
The fitted shoulders offer a bit more structure than your average T-shirt. It also comes in a large variety of bright colors which will stand out during evening runs.

Value:
These shirts are fairly inexpensive. Many buyers buy multiple colors.
Pros
  • UPF 50+
  • Moisture-wicking polyester
  • Comfortable fit
  • Lightweight material
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Does not cover arms

8. Hanes Men’s Long Sleeve

8. Hanes Men’s Long Sleeve
Effective sun protection at a very affordable price so you can stay covered for every outdoor workout. Lightweight, moisture-wicking material is very breathable while still providing the torso and arms with UPF 50+ sun protection.
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Coverage:
This long sleeve shirt provides UPF 50+ protection for the torso and arms.

Construction:
Tight jersery knit 100% polyester offers an ultralightweight barrier to protect from the sun. There is double needle stitching at the hems but there is still some fraying threads that need to be cut off after repeated use.

Fit:
These shirts have a snug fit but are not compression. If you want a bit more room in your workout shirt, most buyers recommend sizing up.

Comfort:
Users note this shirt feels silky smooth and has a very thin, breathable material.

Style:
This basic shirt is available in a variety of solid colors. It may be a bit too thin for casual wear.

Value:
These Hanes tees are sold in affordable multi-packs, making it easy to stock up on easy sun protection for every workout.
Pros
  • UPF 50+
  • Light, breathable fabric
  • Inexpensive
  • Long sleeve coverage
Cons
  • No neck or hand coverage
  • Material may be too thin

9. Vapor Apparel Women’s Performance T-shirt

9. Vapor Apparel Women’s Performance T-shirt
Lightweight workout shirt with UPF 50+ that is perfect for covering chest and shoulders during a summer run. Most women love the fitted feel but bustier women find it too constricting around the chest.
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Coverage:
This workout tee offers a maximum UPF rating of 50+ and provides coverage for the commonly burned shoulders and chest while you are on the run.

Construction:
This shirt has a dense 100% microfiber weave that feels lightweight and breathable. It is machine washable and the company guarantees 99.92% UVB block after 25 washes.

Fit:
The women’s slim fit cut is flattering for most women. However, some bustier women find it to be a bit too constricting across the chest.

Comfort:
The soft material is comfortable and wicks away moisture to cool you down as you sweat.

Style:
This simple shirt has a flattering fit but otherwise appears similar to any basic activewear.

Value:
This shirt is pretty affordable for reliable sun protection.
Pros
  • UPF 50+
  • Lightweight and breathable
  • Quick-drying microfiber
  • Covers chest and shoulders
Cons
  • Lighter colors may be see-through
  • Not ideal for busty women
  • Leaves arms exposed

10. Under Armour Men’s HeatGear Sleeveless Compression Shirt

10. Under Armour Men’s HeatGear Sleeveless Compression Shirt
For those who can’t stand to cover their arms during a workout, this sleeveless compression shirt provides some extra protection for the back and chest.
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Coverage:
Due to the tight fit of this compression shirt it has a UPF of 30 and provides coverage for your torso while leaving the neck, shoulders and arms exposed.

Construction:
Fabric is 84% polyester and 16% spandex with a compressive feel and moisture wicking abilities.

Fit:
This compression shirt should fit like a second skin and will hug the body just a bit.

Comfort:
The snug fit is comfortable enough to wear all day. Many men love to have these trimming tees as undershirts as well as activewear. The 16% spandex material and 4-way stretch is designed to move with you in any direction. Unlike many compression shirts, this sleeveless top does not roll up as you move. The moisture wicking material and stretch-mesh underarm panels work together to increase ventilation and keep you cool as you sweat.

Style:
The tight fit of this top holds in the stomach to create a flattering silhouette. Available in a variety of neutral and vibrant colors it is perfect for layering as an undershirt or wearing on its own.

Value:
Price is standard for quality activewear.
Pros
  • Sleeveless shirt allows for full range of motion
  • Moisture-wicking material
  • Underarm stretch-mesh panels for ventilation
  • Comfortable compression fit
Cons
  • UPF 30
  • No shoulder or arm coverage

 

The Metrics We Used to Determine the Best Sun Protective Clothing

When choosing sun protective clothing, there are many factors to take into account. Not only do you want to make sure you are protected from the sun, but you also need a reliable workout shirt that will stretch with you as you move and keep you cool as you sweat. To make the choice a little easier, we compared clothing based on the following criteria.

Coverage

The Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is the rating system used to measure sun protection in clothing, similar to SPF for sunscreen. While SPF focuses on protecting skin from UVA (long-wave) rays, UPF protects from both UVA and UVB (shortwave) rays. UPF is measured by the fraction of light it lets through. For example, anything with a rating of UPF 50+ (the highest rating) lets in less than 1/50th (2 percent) of the sun’s rays. Anything less than 15 (letting in 6.6 percent of UV rays) is not considered to be UV protective. A cotton T-shirt, for example, would typically have a UPF around 5, reducing UV exposure to 20 percent.

This sun protection is great but, UPF rating will not have any effect on skin left uncovered. All T-shirts will provide coverage for the back, chest and shoulders but it is best to find shirts that will provide coverage for the arms, backs of hands and neck as well.

Construction

Quality construction is essential to the durability of any shirt, but tight seams and dense construction are very important for a good UPF rating. These factors are ideal for sun protection but not great for the hot conditions in which you will likely be exposed to the sun. So, we looked for shirts that have breathable, moisture-wicking fabric to keep you cool even when fully covered.

Fit

Comfortable and flattering fit is always important for workout attire. However, the fit of your shirt may also impact the efficacy of your sun protection. Typically, tighter shirts are less protective as the material will be stretched a bit thinner. When choosing a size, opt for the one that will give a little bit of room.

Comfort

Like all activewear, you want a shirt that will not weigh you down or restrict movement. For a sun protective shirt, you will also need something that will wick away moisture and keep you cool. Many of these shirts have features that will actually keep you cooler in the sun than wearing nothing at all.

Style

Sun protection is the number one consideration but it doesn’t hurt to look good either. We looked for shirts that had a flattering fit and attractive color options.

Value

Price ranges for sun protective clothing. If you are spending a bit more you want to make sure it is on a garment that will hold up well and provide reliable sun protection through many washes.

 

Other Things to Consider When Buying Sun Protective Clothing

Your Risk Factors

UV rays are damaging to everyone but there are certain individuals who are at higher risk when exposed. Fair skinned individuals tend to be more sensitive to the sun due to the lower levels of melanin in their skin. This means these individuals burn easily and area at increased risk for developing skin cancer. Additionally, those with a family history of skin cancer, regardless of how much you burn, are at increased risk for developing skin cancer. Children also should take care to cover up as their skin is thinner than adults and damage at an early age is more likely to cause issues in adulthood. Temporary risk factors such as medications also play a role in your vulnerability. Double-check your medications and herbal supplements,  especially acne treatments, antihistamines, and antibiotics, as these may increase sun sensitivity.

Where and When You Run Outside

Sun intensity is greater in equatorial regions, areas at high altitude and when around snow or water so take care to cover up when spending time outdoors in these areas. The time of day you are outdoors also has an impact. Times of increased sun intensity are typically between the hours of 9am and 3pm but this will vary based on the season. If you cannot schedule your runs outside of these times, be sure to take extra precautions.

Color

Style should not be your primary concern when selecting the color of your sun protective apparel. Darker colors tend to absorb more light, including UV rays, that makes them less effective and they have a tendency to be warmer than lighter colors. Bright colors also tend to reflect light more effectively than their paler counterparts.

Fit

If you prefer tighter activewear, be sure the garment you choose is intended to fit snugly. If the fabric is too tight, it will stretch out, allowing more UV rays through. UPF ratings take the fit into account, so if the shirt fits tighter than intended, you may be getting less protection than you think.

Additional Protection

Covering up with sun protective apparel is a great start but it is also important to take care of areas not covered by your clothing. Be sure to take care of the tops of your ears and bottom lip as these are areas that are often missed and frequently develop skin cancer. Adding sweat-resistant broad spectrum sunscreen and a hat are good ways to reduce exposure to damaging rays. Sunglasses are also very important as UV rays can harm eyesight as well.

 

FAQs

Q: Are all clothes UV protective?

A: Yes and no. Regular clothing will decrease the amount of UV rays that reach your skin but anything with a UPF of less than 15 is not considered to be UV protective. A regular cotton T-shirt will reduce UV exposure by 80%. This may seem like a good amount of coverage but it is significantly less than the coverage of even a 15 SPF sunscreen, which reduces UV exposure by 93%.

Q: Why are UV rays damaging?

A: Ultraviolet light sits just beyond the color spectrum and is invisible to the naked eye. The longest of these UV rays is UVA which penetrates skin most deeply and is responsible for tanning, photoaging and wrinkles. UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and penetrate the most outermost layer of skin–the epidermis. These UVB rays are largely responsible for reddening of the skin after sun exposure. Both UVA and UVB cause damage at the cellular DNA level. Damage to the DNA causes mutations which can lead to cancer.

Q: How do I care for my sun protective clothing?

A: Each piece of clothing will be a bit different so be sure to follow tag instructions. Anything treated with a UPF protectant may lose its efficacy with frequent washing or harsh detergents. Many people choose to hand wash their shirts right after a run. As most of this UPF apparel is designed to dry quick, their garment is clean, dry and ready to go by the next day.

Q: Will these clothes also protect from mosquitoes?

A: Some garments may provide some protection. However, the fabric of most of this clothing is thinner with the intention of keeping you cool, so it will not offer the most effective barrier against bugs.

Sources

  1. Smith, Scott, How to Choose Sun Protection (UPF) Clothing, Web Article,
  2. Skin Cancer Foundation, UVA & UVB, Website,
  3. Butler, Sarah, Run and Sun: Protect Your Skin, Web Article,
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