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What color is best for sun protection?

With summer in full swing, many people are looking for ways to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Choosing the right colors for your clothes can help block some of those rays and lower your risk of sunburns and skin damage.

How Clothing Color Impacts Sun Protection

The color of fabric impacts how much UV radiation can penetrate to your skin. Darker colors generally provide more UV protection than lighter colors. Here’s an overview of how different clothing colors fare:

Clothing Color UV Protection Level
White Low
Yellow, Orange, Red Medium
Olive, Brown Medium-High
Green, Blue, Purple High
Black Very High

As you can see, lighter colors like white and bright yellow don’t block as much UV light. Darker colors like black, navy, forest green, and dark red provide the best sun protection.

How UV Rays Penetrate Fabric

When UV rays hit fabric, a few different things can happen. Some of the radiation will be:

  • Reflected off the surface
  • Absorbed by the fibers and converted into small amounts of heat
  • Transmitted through the fabric to the skin

The amount of UV that’s reflected, absorbed, and transmitted depends on the color and fabric structure. Let’s take a closer look at how this works:


The lighter the color, the more UV radiation it will reflect. So white fabric reflects more UV rays than darker colors. This reflection bounces the rays away from skin.


Darker colors absorb more UV radiation, converting it into harmless heat energy. Black fabric absorbs up to 90-95% of UV radiation. Meanwhile, white clothing only absorbs about 5-10%.


The transmitted UV rays are what actually reach your skin. More opaque and tightly woven fabrics allow less UV transmission. Black fabrics transmit only small amounts of UV, blocking over 90% of what hits it.

SPF Ratings of Clothing

Some clothing brands provide a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) or SPF (sun protection factor) rating for their fabrics. This measures how much UV radiation is transmitted through untreated fabric.

UPF Rating UV Rays Blocked
15-24 93.3-95.9%
25-39 96-97.4%
40-50+ 97.5-98%

A standard white t-shirt typically has a UPF around 5-8. A black t-shirt can be over 50. Look for lightweight summer clothes with UPF 30+ for excellent sun protection. Or you can boost a garment’s SPF by washing it with UV-blocking detergent.

Best and Worst Colors for Sun Protection

Now that you know how clothing color, UV reflection, absorption and transmission work, let’s review the best and worst choices:

Best Colors

  • Dark blue: A deep navy blue offers both high UV absorption and low transmission. It’s far superior to lighter blues.
  • Dark red: Provides excellent UV protection, though not quite as good as darker blues.
  • Dark green: Dark forest greens absorb significant UV radiation and transmit very little to skin.
  • Black: The gold standard, black fabric blocks over 90% of UV rays. Can get hot in the sun though.

Worst Colors

  • White: Provides very little UV protection. Mostly reflects and transmits radiation.
  • Yellow: Pale yellow has an extremely low UPF rating and allows significant UV transmission.
  • Orange: Bright oranges don’t absorb much radiation and have medium transmission.
  • Red: Bright reds have slightly more absorption than orange but still transmit ample UV.

Avoid Patterns and Prints

Clothing with busy patterns or different colored panels provide uneven sun protection. The lighter colors transmit more UV rays than the darker pieces of the fabric.

Solid, darker choices work far better at blocking UV over your entire body. Dark sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats are also smart options for protecting vulnerable areas like your eyes and face.

Other Factors Affecting UV Protection

Beyond just color, other aspects of clothing impact sun safety. Consider these factors as well:

  • Fabric weight: Lightweight sheers have less UV blocking than thick, dense knits.
  • Stretch: Stretchy fabrics transmit more UV rays than non-stretch when pulled taut.
  • Wetness: Wet clothing absorbs more UV rays than dry items.
  • Washing: Detergent residues can enhance UV protection, while bleach weakens it.
  • Sunscreen: Topical sunblock on skin under clothes boosts SPF.


Choosing the right sun protective clothing takes some thought beyond just liking the color. In general, darker colored garments with a tighter weave provide the best UV blocking. Black, deep navy, and dark olive offer the most sun protection. Lighter shades like white and yellow have very low UPF ratings.

Solid colored dark fabrics are best, since patterns and prints can transmit more UV in the lighter areas. And other factors like fabric thickness, stretch, wetness and laundry can influence how much radiation gets through your clothes.

With the right sun safe clothing choices, you can have fun in the summer sun with less worry about harmful UV damage!