With summer in full swing, many people are spending more time outdoors enjoying the warm weather. However, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can be damaging to the skin. Choosing clothing in colors that provide protection from the sun is an important way to prevent sunburn, skin damage, and skin cancer.
How Do Colors Impact Sun Protection?
The amount of UV radiation that is able to penetrate clothing depends on a variety of factors including the tightness of the weave, the type of fabric, washing and wear, and the color of the clothing. Darker colors generally provide more sun protection than lighter colors.
Darker colors are able to absorb more UV radiation, preventing it from reaching the skin underneath. On the other hand, lighter and brighter colors tend to reflect UV rays, allowing more to penetrate the fabric and reach the skin. White clothing offers the least sun protection.
In addition to choosing darker colors, look for clothing made with fabrics marketed as “UV protective” or “UV filtering.” Many companies now manufacture clothing embedded with UV-blocking substances or coatings to boost sun protection.
Some fabrics are rated with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number that indicates how much UV radiation is able to penetrate the fabric. For example, a shirt rated UPF 50 means that only 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation will reach the skin. In general, a UPF rating above 30 to 40 provides good sun protection.
Best Colors for Sun Protection
Here are some of the top colors for staying safe in the sun:
- Dark blue: Offers better UV protection than lighter blues.
- Dark red: More protective than lighter reds.
- Dark green: Better than light greens.
- Black: One of the best colors for sun protection.
- Dark gray: More effective than light grays.
Darker shades of orange, yellow, pink, and purple can also provide moderate sun protection as long as they are deeper, richer tones.
Lighter Colors to Avoid
Lighter shades and bright colors allow more UV radiation to reach your skin. Colors to be wary of when spending time in the sun include:
- White: Offers very little UV protection.
- Tan: Allows more UV penetration than darker tans.
- Light blue: Less protective than darker blues.
- Light pink: Less effective than deep pinks.
- Light green: Not as good as dark greens.
Pastels, neons, light yellows and oranges, and any faded, pale colors also have low SPF. If you want to wear lighter colors, apply broad spectrum sunscreen underneath for protection.
What Parts of Clothing Matter Most?
Pay special attention to choosing UV-protective colors for these parts of clothing:
- Tops: Go for darker colors in tank tops, T-shirts, blouses, etc. to protect the shoulders, back, and chest.
- Shorts: Since legs often get a lot of sun exposure, darker shorts are ideal.
- Skirts and dresses: Pick deep, rich colors to protect the legs.
- Hats: A dark hat reduces UV rays reaching the face, neck, ears, and scalp.
- Swimwear: Opt for darker swim tops, one-piece suits, or swim shirts.
What About UV-Blocking Accessories?
In addition to UV-protective clothing, accessories can provide barrier protection from the sun’s rays:
- Wide-brimmed hats
- UV-blocking sunglasses
- UV face masks or face shields
- UV-blocking gloves
- Rash guards or swim shirts
- Sun-protective beach wraps or sarongs
Look for accessories made with tightly-woven fabrics and UV-blocking materials. These provide an added layer of defense against the sun.
Other Sun Safety Tips
Clothing color is just one part of staying safe in the sun. Here are some other tips for sun protection:
- Use broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen and reapply often.
- Seek shade during peak sun hours (10am-4pm).
- Cover up with tightly-woven, loose fitting clothing.
- Wear a hat with a 3+ inch brim.
- Don sunglasses with 99-100% UV blockage.
- Avoid reflective surfaces which can bounce back UV rays.
- Check the UV index before heading outdoors.
The Bottom Line on Sun-Safe Colors
Darker colors provide more sun protection than lighter ones when it comes to clothing. Black, dark blue, dark red, and dark green are some of the best choices for blocking UV rays.
Lighter colors and whites allow more sun penetration. But you can boost protection by choosing UV-blocking fabrics and wearing sunscreen underneath.
Hats, sunglasses, and other accessories can also help reduce sun exposure. With the right sun safety habits, you can stay comfortable and have fun in the sun while lowering your skin cancer risk.