What Colors Are The Best for Sun Protective Clothing?

Color Coordinating for Sun Protection (What Clothes Are the Best?)

pineapple with sunglasses in sand

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We have skipped into spring and I am embracing my sunscreen, sunglasses, and trusty wide-brimmed hat. Even with the earth revolving around the sun at a distance approximately 150 kilometers wide, ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays can pack a punch.

Table 1. The power of ultraviolet radiation*

Skin Types

Typical Time Before Sunburn

Pale skin, many freckles, burns easily, never tans

5- 10 minutes

Pale skin, few freckles, prone to sunburn, only tans a little

10-20 minutes

Occasional sunburn tans well

15- 25 minutes

Rare sunburn, naturally dark skin

20-30 minutes

*Table collected from PubMed Health

Not only is broad-spectrum sunscreen essential for skin care during these sunny days, but clothing choice is vital. Prolonged UV radiation exposure causes inflammation, physical changes, DNA damage, and increased risk for skin cancer. Here are the best colors to wear for sun protection and how to incorporate them into spring and summer trends.


Best Sun Protective Color?

women wearing bright blue clothing walking in heels

Credit: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash.com

Color is the first consideration. In regards to light versus dark, darker pigments are more protective. These colors tend to absorb UV radiation rather than transmit it. Dark colors such as black, blue, and brown will have a higher UPF or ultraviolet protection factor. Some clothing companies sell clothes that are specifically designed with UPF labels. If seeking to purchase sun protective clothing, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends brands that are rated at least 30 UPF.

Table 2. UPF sun protection

UPF Value*



Not considered UV protective




Very good



* From Australia Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Program

Color is not the only defining factor for UPF. UPF rating may be altered by the type of material, as well as the wetting, stretching, and laundering of clothes. Furthermore, natural coloring dyes and various whitening agents have been demonstrated to strengthen the UPF value.

Best trending colors for sun protection

  • Emerald greens
  • Dark bold blues
  • Vibrant purples


Best Sun Protective Material

models walking down runway

Credit: Kris Atomic on Unsplash.com

The type of fabric matters just as much as the color. Loosely knitted fibers do not absorb as much UV radiation as dense thickly woven fibers. For example, a white polyester shirt may have a greater UPF strength in comparison to a shirt made out of thin, red rayon. Here is a textile ranking from most sun protective to least sun protective.

  1. Lycra/elastane
  2. Plastic
  3. Nylon
  4. Polyester
  5. Wool
  6. Silk
  7. Cotton
  8. Rayon

Best trending materials for sun protection

  • Plastic
  • Sequins (made from plastic)
  • Thick check prints on jackets, suits, etc.
  • Textured/fringe pieces made with polyester/wool/thick fabrics


Best Sun Protection in Specific Climates

A final consideration for sun protective gear is climate and season. The intensity of UV rays varies depending on geographical location. Populations that are located closer to the equator or in high altitudes are exposed to more intense rays of sunlight and are at higher risk for chronic exposure. An excellent tool to use is the UV index. Implemented by the Canadians in 1992, the UV index rates the intensity of the sun with numerical values. Much like the weather report, the daily UV index can provide a brief but useful description of how intense the sun will be shining in your particular location.

Table 3. UV index in different geographical areas

The UV Index**

Common Locations 

0-2 LOW

Northern countries


North America, Africa, Europe, Antarctica

6-7 HIGH

North America, Africa, Europe


Africa, South America, Australia, Asia


Tropical latitudes, High altitudes, Places of ozone depletion

*Environmental Protection Agency and Nasa Earth Observations

*Index located on a variety of media platforms (example: internet, mobile phone weather apps)


Tips for Sun Shopping

Sun protection with sunscreen and clothes may make a world of difference. Now that we have a better understanding of what colors and fabrics may protect us, how do we enjoy the sun but also prioritize our skin health?

  • Shop with purpose. If planning a tropical getaway, look for clothes that will keep you cool, but also protected.
  • Invest in a hat as well as a pair of sunglasses. Your head, eyes, and forehead will all thank you. (My water-lovers may also want to buy a hat that is waterproof).
  • Identify if you are a high-risk individual for skin cancer or sunburn. Skin color is not the only determinant. A person’s age, use of certain medications, and also certain medical conditions can cause and/or contribute to skin sensitivity to ultraviolet radiation.
  • Surf bums and water-seekers, it may be wise to invest in UPF rated swimwear.
  • For cotton, wash before wearing. Shrinking cotton helps strengthen UPF factor.
  • Some materials can also be washed with a special detergent that adds UPF strength to fibers.


For further reading on protecting your skin from the sun, click on the article links below:

5 Nutritional Supplements for Sun Protection

Outdoor Activities Affect Our Skin

Fun Fays to Protect Your Face from the Sun

Three Supplements to Incorporate for Sun Health

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