Fabrics that repel the sun: Which are they and why they’re important for our health

Not only sunscreen creams protect against ultraviolet radiation, but so do clothes, as they manage to mitigate the impact of these UV rays on the skin. However, not all fabrics protect us in the same way. In this article, we explain which are the best fabrics to protect you from the sun.

What is UPF and why is it important in fabric selection?

The acronym UPF stands for “Ultraviolet Protection Factor” and indicates the fraction of ultraviolet radiation that penetrates a given type of fabric. The higher the UPF, the greater the protection. For example, a fabric rated with a UPF 50 would indicate that only 1/50th of the ultraviolet radiation that touches the fabric passes through it. Therefore, fabrics with tighter, thicker fibers will have a higher UPF.

You can find the UPF on some garment labels, but it may be the case that a fabric does not have a UPF assigned to it (either because it is not considered to protect against UV rays or because it has not been tested). So if you can’t find this information, it’s important to know the types of fabrics and features that offer the most protection.

What makes a fabric more protective from the sun?

A fabric’s ability to protect, and therefore its UPF rating, is determined from the following factors:

  • Fabric weave. Very tight weaves, i.e., leaving very few holes in between, protect more than those with more open weaves, as they prevent rays from filtering through these holes. In this way, synthetic or semi-synthetic fibers offer greater protection against solar radiation.
  • Fabric thickness. Thicker fabrics have a higher UPF than thinner fabrics, as they act as a protective barrier against the sun’s rays.
  • Color and finish. Dark colors such as red and black absorb more ultraviolet radiation than white and pastel colors, and the more intense the color tint, the greater the protection. Therefore, the popular belief that white protects more than black is erroneous. The finish is also important, since shiny fabrics such as satin reflect more radiation from the skin than matt fabrics such as linen.
  • Fabric whitening. There are numerous studies that prove that bleaching of fabrics reduces their sun protection. Natural fibers contain UV-absorbing substances that are lost when bleached.
  • Treatment with chemicals. The fabric fibers can be treated with chemicals or pigments such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which absorb radiation. However, this process is generally not very environmentally friendly and the chemicals are lost through washing. However, dyeing natural fiber fabrics such as cotton with natural dyes has also been shown to increase their protection against UV radiation.
  • Fabric quality. A garment in perfect condition is not the same as a worn garment. New fabrics can offer greater protection than worn fabrics because when a garment wears out (for example, as the number of washes increases) these threads open up and begin to leave small holes that do not block the sun’s rays.
  • Condition of the fabric. It is also important to know that when a fabric gets wet, the UPF can decrease significantly, as water reduces the scattering of UV rays, thus increasing the absorption of UV rays by the skin. For this reason, swimwear such as bikinis and swimsuits are designed for quick drying.




Which fabrics repel the sun best?

So, the fabrics that best protect from the sun are those with an UPF of 30 or higher. As a general rule, it is preferable to opt for synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, nylon or rayon as they have a tighter structure.

Among natural fabrics, it is better to be careful with crepe, chiffon, tulle and linen, and depending on the type of cotton. Denim and wool are spared, since they have a tighter weave, i.e. a tighter structure.

All in all, it is important to combine photoprotective fabrics with extra protection and not to forget to always use sunscreen, in addition to using sunglasses and hats as far as possible.

Where to obtain sustainable photoprotective fabrics?

We have seen that synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics offer greater protection against the sun’s rays, but these options are not environmentally friendly per se, as their manufacturing process pollutes more and consumes more natural resources. Therefore, the best way to obtain fabrics of this type is by reusing existing materials. At Recovo, you can find all kinds of circular fabrics, including nylon, polyester and rayon fabrics that offer better solar protection.

You can source circular synthetic fabrics that repel the sun by clicking here.



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