UV Protective Swimwear 101 - A Crash Course in UV Fabrics

UV swimwear evolution 1900-2017

It may be that swimwear wins the award for “Most Changed Fashion”.

From the turn of the 20th century’s modest, FULL-body togs to the skimpiest string bikinis, swimwear always attracts attention. Colours, styles, sizes & fabrics have been in a constant state of evolution.

If you need another giggle today, click on the link to watch Bryan Hyland’s 1960 version of “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-dot Bikini”:

Swimwear has come a long way from that famous suit...

And perhaps one of the more important changes has been the advent and evolution of ultraviolet (UV) protective swimwear.

UV protective swimwear actually started in Australia (where & when Radicool was also founded). The Australian swimwear industry was the first to begin exploring sun protective fabrics. They were looking for a way to enhance or replace the use of sunscreens in order to combat the growing epidemic of sun related skin damage. In 1996, they successfully established the first standard for UV fabrics. Their ideas traveled across the oceans and through the fashion world and in 2001, the USA created their own standards. Since then, the use of UV protective swimwear and other clothing has been growing part of the fashion industry. What started out as a market for outdoor enthusiasts has spread to anyone wanting to enjoy the great outdoors in a safer, healthier way.

So what makes a fabric sun protective?

The truth is that any fabric offers some protection from the sun. Heavy, dense, dark colored fabrics work especially well, especially when covering the entire body, but they’re not exactly the fashion statement you want to take to the beach (If unsure, please see the photo above!).  Lighter weight fabrics are easier to wear but don’t have any significant level of UV protection. Sun protective fabrics are crafted with unique blends of weave, colour, density, and stretch. These fabrics make it possible to manufacture clothing that is booth cool and comfortable. Some UV fabrics are made with additives which provide moisture wicking and antibacterial properties. All to keep you out in the fresh air safely (click here for further information on Radicool's fabrics).

Like sunscreens' SPF ratings, fabrics are also rated. UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) ratings generally range from 0 to 50 and rate both UVA and UVB rays. Most regular fabrics rate about 6, while sun protective fabrics range from 20 to 50+. 

UV protective clothing has to cover the body to work so the designers have to pay special attention to style. This is one of those times when less is not actually more (otherwise all uncovered areas are protected by a broad spectrum sunscreen). Clothing has to be attractive and enjoyable to wear. Longer sleeves and pant lengths are part of the picture, but those are balanced with venting to improve air flow and designs that are cool and comfortable.

UV protective swimwear is especially challenging. Swimsuits not only need to provide protection, they need to be able to so either wet or dry (as UPF value drops ~ 50-60% when wet). Not many people can go to the beach without taking a cooling dip in the water, often more than once, so suits need to be effective either way. Making sure you are buying products with a UPF of 50+ is the only way to ensure your real protection factor is not dropping below a UPF of ~ 20-25, which still keeps you protected from 95+% of the sun's ultraviolet rays.

So now you know. About the only thing left for you to do is order your new UV protective swimsuit, pack a picnic, and find the nearest beach.



Mike McCarthy


Blog images courtesy of Witzzer.com and Pinterest.com.

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