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Your Guide to Sun Protective Clothing

By: Kevin Cook

It’s finally that time of year! As the water and weather start to warm up, it’s time to hit the water. After a long dark winter, we are all eager to get outside and enjoy the warm embrace of the sun. It’s important to remember the affects the sun can have on our skin and health. In this blog we aim to break down some of the science behind UV Rays, it's affects on our skin and how to protect ourselves against it.

Level Six designer Alison showing off the women's coastal short sleeve and switch board short, and fellow designer Nick wearing the coastal short sleeve and slanted board shorts

The sun emits ultraviolet radiation that can cause a lot of harm to our skin. Excessive sun exposure and multiple sunburns can increase your risk of skin cancer. People with fair skin, freckles, moles, are at an even greater risk, and children can suffer long-term effects as their skin is more sensitive than an adult.

UV radiation consists of three types of ultraviolet rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC rays have the shortest wavelength and are completely absorbed by the ozone layer and atmosphere. This leaves UVB waves which have a medium wavelength that is mostly absorbed by the ozone layer, and UVA has a long wavelength that is not absorbed by the ozone layer and is the two that we need to worry about.

UVA rays make up the majority of UV radiation from the sun, almost 95% and can penetrate deep into the skin. While UVB makes up the other 5% they are almost 1000 times stronger the UVA rays and damage the outermost layer of the skin.

It’s important to remember that in North America the sun is at it’s strongest between 10 am and 4 pm between April and October. Elevation can also play a role in sun exposure, for every 1000m of elevation gain UV rays increase by 10%. You also need to consider reflection. UV rays can reflect off snow almost 94% which can double your exposure. Grass and water reflect an extra 10% and sand 15%. Also, don't be fooled by cloudy days, while clouds can absorb some UV rays depending on their density and other factors, you can still get a sunburn on a cloudy day! Lastly, taking medication can increase your sensitivity to the sun so make sure to check with your doctor, as certain antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and antihistamines can make you more venerable to UV rays.

Now that we know how the suns radiation affects our skin let's take a look at how to protect it. While sunscreen is a vital part of protecting yourself from the sun it does have it's downsides compared to sun protective clothing. (On the areas that you can cover) Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours, regardless of what the label says and can lose its effectiveness after sweating, swimming and toweling off. It needs to be constantly re-applied. Sun protective clothing is relatively consistent over time and offers better long lasting protection. Clothing is rated on a UPF scale. (Not to be confused with the "SPF" rating used for sunscreen, they are not the same!)

UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and represents the ratio between sunburn causing UV (UVA & UVB) without and with the protection of the fabric. The weave, color, weight, stretch, and wetness can all affect a fabrics UPF rating. Generally, the less open or denser the fabric (weave, weight, stretch) the better the protection. For reference, a basic cotton t-shirt has a UPF rating of 5 which would allow 20% of UV rays to pass through its fabric. Fabrics can also get UV treatments throughout the manufacturing process to enhance their UV absorption/blocking properties.

UPF Rating Protection Category % UV radiation Blocked
UPF 15 – 24 Good 93.3 – 95.9
UPF 25 – 39 Very Good 96.0 – 97.4
UPF 40 – 50+ Excellent 97.5 – 98+
Level Six project manager Kevin is sporting the corky hat, coastal long sleeve and elwood board shorts

At Level Six we use a combination of polyesters, spandex, polyamides, and elastane (basically different types of synthetic nylon fabrics) in our sun protective tops, and board shorts to create comfortable, breathable, and quick drying sun protection. We also treat our fabric at the fiber level with a crystalline coating to further add long-lasting UPF coverage to the garments. Nearly all of our sun protective clothing is UPF 50 and while not rated officially the fabric used in our board shorts is UPF40.

We offer a variety of different fits and styles depending on your preferences and intended use. Check out our lineup below.

We encourage you to use sunscreen on the areas that you can't cover with sun protective clothing, in order to enjoy your time out in the sun.

Shop the sun protection collection

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