Do You Need Sunscreen Under a Sun Shirt?
by Nick Hammond on Jun 28, 2022
Wearing sun protective clothing like sun shirts is a great way to protect your skin from UV damage. However, sunshirts don't provide complete sun protection on their own. Here's what you need to know about using sunscreen with sunshirts.
How sunshirts work
Sunshirts are made from fabrics designed to specifically block UV radiation from the sun. They utilize a variety of special features and technologies to help minimize how much UV light can penetrate the fabric.
One key feature is a tightly woven fabric. By minimizing the space between the fabric threads, less UV light can shine through the little holes in the weave. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and nylon are also commonly used because they are good at absorbing UV rays instead of allowing them to pass through the shirt.
Special UV blocking coatings are also applied to the fabric. These coatings contain ingredients that help absorb and reflect UV radiation. This prevents the rays from making it through to your skin. Some shirts also use dyes and pigments that interact with UV light to help absorb it and convert it into small amounts of heat.
In addition to the fabric itself, sunshirts use design elements to cover more skin. This includes features like long sleeves, higher necklines, and collars to protect areas like your shoulders, chest, and neck. Tightly woven vent panels can help keep you cool while still blocking UV rays.
Considering all these UV blocking technologies, sun protective shirts can filter out approximately 50-95% of UV radiation from reaching your skin. But the exact level of protection depends on several factors:
- Fabric density - The tighter the weave of the fabric, the less UV penetrates. Looser knits allow more UV through the holes in the weave.
- Fabric material - Synthetics like polyester tend to block more UV than natural fibers like cotton. Specialty synthetic blends made for sun protection are ideal.
- Color - Darker colored fabrics absorb more UV light than lighter ones. Black offers the highest UV protection.
- Construction - Small design elements like vents, mesh panels, or embellishments can reduce coverage and allow more UV through.
Why sunscreen is still essential
While sunshirts provide excellent UV protection for covered areas, they cannot block 100% of UV rays on their own. There are still limitations to the protection sunshirts offer:
- Sun exposure on uncovered areas - Your face, hands, neck, and other exposed areas still get sun without sunscreen.
- Penetration through fabrics - When fabrics are stretched or wet, they allow more UV to penetrate through to skin.
- Degradation over time - Over repeated use and washing, sunshirt fabrics may degrade and offer less UV protection.
- Sweat and moisture - Wet fabric allows more UV to pass through. If you sweat in your sunshirt, protection decreases.
Applying sunscreen underneath your sunshirt provides an additional layer of UV protection that helps overcome these limitations. The sunscreen forms a chemical barrier on your skin to help block UV rays that make it through the shirt fabric. This gives you more complete protection for all of your exposed skin.
Using both sunscreen and a sunshirt is important to help prevent the damaging effects of UV exposure like:
- Sunburn - UV exposure causes inflammatory reactions in skin that lead to redness and pain.
- Premature aging - UV rays generate free radicals that break down collagen, leading to wrinkles and sagging skin over time.
- Skin cancer - Cumulative UV exposure is linked to various skin cancers including melanoma.
So while sunshirts are very helpful for sun protection, it's crucial not to skip the sunscreen! Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply it liberally under your sunshirt and reapply every 2 hours, or after swimming/sweating, to maintain protection. The combination helps ensure you guard against sun damage from UV rays.
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