Wearing rash guards and UV-protective clothing at the beach, pool or park is one of the fastest ways to keep your kids safe from the sun: it allows you to skip applying (and re-applying) sunblock to your kids’ chests, backs and arms. (Note: you should still apply sunscreen under their sleeve cuffs and on their tummy, if they’re wearing a rash guard that might ride up while playing.)
Fortunately, clothing and swimwear brands have started stocking plenty of cute (and functional) rash guard options, from babies to big kids. You might see them labelled with a “UPF” number—that stands for ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) and it’s a rating given to clothing that’s designed to shield us from the sun’s rays.
Some UV-protective rash guards are made using special fibres and a dense weave to block the sun, while other UPF clothing is pre-treated with a UV-deflecting coating. Like SPF in sunscreen, the protection number relates to how much UV the clothing filters out. A swim shirt with a UPF of 25, for example, will allow approximately 1/25 (or roughly four percent) of UV light to pass through it. This should be considered the minimum rating for kids’ clothes with UPF, says Victoria Taraska, a dermatologist at the Derm Centre in Winnipeg. “All clothing is somewhat sun protective,” she explains. Any dark-coloured tightly woven fabric can do the job. In general, polyester and nylon do very well at blocking UV. Wool and silk fibres are moderately effective, and cotton, rayon and hemp fabrics rate lower on the scale. The easiest way to tell if a regular shirt will protect well enough is to hold it up to the sun. The rule of thumb is that if you can see the light, it can reach your kid’s skin, too. And if your little one is swimming in a long-sleeved shirt, but it’s not a UPF-rated rash guard, be sure to check how it performs when it’s wet. Think of a white cotton tee: It might provide a bit of protection on the beach, but it’s useless in the water.
Here are a few of our favourite rash guards, swim sets and beach cover-ups for outfitting active kids this summer.