Sure, sunny weather is nice—as long as you can avoid those punishing ultraviolet rays. Sunburn isn’t just annoying; it accelerates the aging of your skin and is a leading cause of most skin cancers, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Wearing sunscreen is one way to ward off sunburn, but let’s be honest, slathering some on (and reapplying) every time you head outside is a chore. Looking for an easier route? Stock up on a few sun shirts.
A sun shirt is specifically designed to block the harmful UV rays that cause sunburn. To compare items, look for their Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating, which is a measure of how much radiation can penetrate the fabric. A shirt with a rating of UPF 30, for example, allows 1/30th of the radiation (roughly three percent) to pass through. UPF 30 is the minimum rating a garment needs to qualify for the Skin Cancer Foundation’s official recommendation, and a good place to start when shopping. UPF 50+ is the highest possible rating you’ll see.
Fabric protects you from sunburn in several different ways. Dark and bright colors are usually a good choice, since they’ll absorb ultraviolet radiation before it reaches your skin. The structure of the fabric also plays a role—dense, woven materials like denim block rays well. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, holding a fabric up to a source of light is a good way to gauge its sun-blocking abilities. If you can see light through the material, it won’t help you avoid sunburn.
Fit and coverage are key factors as well: Tighter fits can cause the fabric to stretch, creating gaps that let UV rays pass through, and obviously the more coverage you can get, the better. Finally, make sure to keep your clothing dry, because wet fabrics can expose you to more radiation.
Here, we’ve rounded up some top sun shirts from brands like Columbia, Helly Hansen, and Patagonia. No matter what kind of outdoor activity you have planned, these shirts will keep you protected—without having to take a bath in sunscreen.
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!