It takes one bad sunburn to realize that sunscreen isn’t always enough. That’s where sun-protective clothing, or UPF, comes in — it gives anyone spending time in the sun a much-needed barrier between their skin and harmful rays. If you're planning a beach getaway and want to shop for some new swimwear, be it a rash guard, board shorts, a bikini or cover-up, you might want to consider options with built-in UPF.
“Sun-protective clothing adds an extra layer of defense from the sun, and unlike sunscreen, it doesn’t necessarily fade with time,” says Dr. Anna Guanche, FAAD, and founder of Bella Skin Institute.
Since sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently, and chemical sunscreens must be fully absorbed for 30 minutes before they perform optimally, our experts recommend wearing UPF clothing as the first line of defense against UV radiation.
Yet not all UPF clothing is created the same, says Marc Hurlbert, Ph.D., and CEO of the Melanoma Research Alliance. “High-quality UPF clothing achieves its sun protection through the fabrics or weaves used to create it and is designed to last the full lifetime of the article of clothing,” he explains, adding that “lower-quality UPF clothing uses a chemical add-on that may become less effective as you wear and wash it.”
To understand how UPF works and what determines its quality rating, we spoke to dermatologists about what to look for when shopping for swimwear. Plus, we rounded up some top-rated pieces to buy for men, women and kids based on their advice.
What is UPF?
UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor and measures something’s ability to block sunlight. It’s assigned to clothing and accessories, like UPF hats, by how well it keeps out both UVA and UVB rays. “With UPF, use the number as a denominator. So a UPF of 50 means it will allow only 1/50th of the sun's rays to penetrate the clothing,” says Dr. Charles Crutchfield III, a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “The bigger the number, the better, but most UPF products stop at 50.”
The Skin Cancer Foundation requires clothing to have a UPF rating of 30 or higher in order for it to be considered “sun protective.” A UPF of 30 to 49 is considered “very good” protection, and a UPF of 50+ provides “excellent protection,” says Guanche.
Our top picks
- Best full-coverage UPF women’s bathing suit: Zando Long Sleeve Swimsuit
- Best UPF swimwear accessory: Coolibar Women's Kaycos Shrug
- Best men’s UPF rash guard: Kanu Surf Men's Long-Sleeve Rash Guard
- Best full-coverage UPF swimwear for kids: Coolibar Barracuda Neck-to-Ankle Surf Suit
- Best full-coverage UPF swimwear for babies: Upandfast One-Piece Zip Sunsuit with Sun Hat
How we picked the best UPF swimwear
When investigating the best UPF swimwear on the market, our experts stress the importance of looking at the UPF rating. While The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a UPF rating of at least 30, we chose to look only at swimwear that had a UPF rating of 50+. Our experts also recommended we look for pieces with the following:
- A tight weave, since denser material permits less UV rays to pass through.
- Intense or dark colors, which deflect rays better than light colors.
- Materials such as polyester, nylon or lightweight satin silks that deflect UV rays
- Quick-drying materials, since studies show that UPF can be less effective when wet.
Best UPF swimwear in 2023
To help you choose the right protective swimwear for your whole family, we rounded up some of the best options based on expert guidance. We also made sure to include pieces across a range of price points and styles, such as rash guards, cover-ups, bikinis, board shorts, fuller-coverage suits and more. All have a UPF of 50+ and are quick-drying.
Best UPF swimwear for women
This breathable, moisture-wicking one-piece provides arm coverage. It’s also quick-drying, according to the brand, which our experts say is a must, since studies show that UPF can be less effective when wet. This swimsuit comes in 17 patterns and colors, ranging in size from 4–14. It has a front zipper closure and a built-in bra for extra support, too.
Founded by a skin cancer survivor, Cabana Life’s mission is to design stylish sun-safe clothing. All of its garments are UPF 50+ and tested to withstand 40 washings and 100 hours of sunlight exposure before the protection begins to fade, according to the brand. The St. Pete Ruffle Bikini comes in three bold designs with an adjustable back and ranges in size from S-XL. The bikini bottom is sold separately, or you could pair it with a coordinating swim skirt.
This UPF 50+ Coolibar shrug is a clever way to provide extra coverage over a sleeveless bathing suit. It ranges in size from XXS–XXL and has a mock neckline with full-length sleeves that have thumbholes. Plus, it has four-way stretch and is chlorine- and saltwater-resistant, according to the brand.
Originally created to protect surfers from abrasions when slipping on and off their boards, rash guards are a popular swimwear item for anyone who wants ultimate protection from the sun’s rays. This brand uses an environmentally friendly dyeing process, and its rash guards have four-way stretch and are quick-drying, according to Axesea. They also come in 15 patterns and colors and range in size from S-XL.
Not only does this tankini have a UPF 50+ rating, but it is also made of recycled nylon, a material that deflects UV rays, according to our experts. Another plus: Athleta says their bra cups are quick-drying, never fold over and always maintain their shape. This tankini comes in four colors and has a 4.5-star average rating from over 750 reviews.
This cover-up dress is embedded with zinc-oxide protection, a broad-spectrum UV absorber that enhances sun protection in textiles, according to Coolibar It also has a hood, V-neckline, loose front pockets and side vents. Made from cotton, bamboo and elastane, it’s also very lightweight. This cover-up, which comes in 17 bold colorways, has a 4.6-star average rating from over 600 reviews on Amazon.
These high-waisted board shorts are 100% polyester, breathable and quick-drying, according to the brand — all key elements that defend against the sun’s rays, according to our experts. The side pockets each have a drain hole for water flow when swimming. They come in 16 colors, including plum, khaki, black, aqua and slate green and have a 4.3-star average rating from nearly 700 reviews on Amazon.
Best UPF swimwear for men
These swim shorts, which have a built-in knit compression liner for additional support, come in eight colors and range from S-3XL. They have a back zipper pocket and an elastic waistband with a drawstring. According to the brand, its Aqua Plus Lite fabric repels water and is quick-drying. Coolibar says its products are all rigorously tested to ensure high-quality UV protection.
These pocketed Sag Harbor swim trunks with UPF 50+ are reversible, lined on the inside and have an elastic waistband with a tie. They have a looser fit, which is helpful in protecting against UV rays, according to our experts. They come in 15 colors, from S-2XL.
For years Kanu has been catering to surfers with its fun and functional designs, and this long-sleeve rash guard is no different. It’s breathable, lightweight and quick-drying, according to the brand. Plus, it’s 82% polyester and 18% spandex, which help deflect the sun’s rays, our experts say. It comes in eight bold colors, ranging in size from S-XXL.
Its short-sleeved version is 100% polyester, which is excellent for deflecting UV rays, and has a crew neck and contrasting panels on either side. It comes in 16 colors, ranging from S-5X and has a 4.5-star average rating from more than 19,000 reviews on Amazon.
These UPF 50+ swim tights offer an added layer of protection during water sports. We chose these leggings not only for its full-coverage protection but also because they come in navy and black, which deflect UV rays better than light colors, per our expert guidance. According to the brand, these are lightweight, chlorine- and saltwater-resistant and quick-drying. These also have a four-way stretch, an elastic waistband and an internal elastic drawstring for added comfort. They range in size from XS-XL.
Designed in California, these board shorts come in six bold colorways. They are lightweight, breathable and quick-drying, and have a Velcro closure and tie, according to the brand.
Lightweight, moisture-wicking and quick-drying, this hooded shirt with a built-in neck gaiter is an ideal men’s cover-up for extreme sun exposure. It has mesh breathing holes to keep your sunglasses from fogging up and thumbholes to keep your sleeves in place for extra sun protection, according to Baleaf.
Best UPF swimwear for kids
The unisex UPF 50+ surf suit offers whole-body coverage for kids sizes 4–12. It resists chlorine and saltwater, according to the brand, and has a zip front for easy on and off. Coolibar also makes a neck-to-knee version.
This UPF 50+ two-piece is made of 82% nylon, a material our experts said deflects harmful UV rays. It also comes with a rash guard for additional sun protection and a matching ruffle bottom. This swimsuit comes in 23 vibrant print options and has a 4.4-star average rating from over 6,700 reviews on Amazon and ranges in size from 2T to 10 years.
This swimsuit set, which has a 4.8-star average rating from over 37,000 reviews on Amazon, ranges in size from 3M to 5T. The loose-fitting shirt provides comfort and also added protection, since tighter-fitting material can stretch, allowing more sun in, says Dr. Mohiba Tareen, FAAD, a clinical assistant professor of Dermatology at Columbia University. The 100% polyester pull-on trunks also have a drawstring closure for easy on and off.
This lightweight machine-washable swimsuit is breathable, quick-drying, and lined front and back to ensure UV rays can’t penetrate through, according to the brand. With 44 patterns to choose from in sizes ranging from 2T to 14 years, Kanu also sells matching rash guards and board shorts for extra coverage that you can purchase separately.
This unisex baby swimsuit is a favorite of Tareen’s: “This brand has the lightest fabrics, and their materials stand up to sweat, salt and chlorine. And that’s particularly important if you have five kids like me and pass down clothing over the years.” It ranges in size from 0 to 3T and has a snap-close bottom for easy diaper access.
In addition to the UPF 50+ coverage, this suit comes with a matching waterproof hat to keep your baby shielded from harmful sun rays. The suits are available in sizes 3M-36M and come in a variety of patterns.
This long-sleeve UPF 50+ swimsuit, which comes in 28 vibrant prints, has a zipper back and quick diaper-change snaps for ease. This swimsuit has a 4.9-star average rating from over 20,000 reviews on Amazon.
How to shop for quality UPF swimwear
The best way to know if a garment is safe and effective at blocking harmful UV rays is to look for the The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. The foundation grants this seal to fabrics that have a minimum of 30 UPF on the lightest shade in its product range and also pass a number of tests by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists.
The experts we spoke to also recommend looking for the following:
- UPF 30-50+ rating. Although The Skin Cancer Foundation accepts a minimum of UPF 30, the most optimal level of protection is 50+, says Hurlbert. A UPF rating of 30 means the fabric allows 1/30th, or about 3% of UV radiation to pass through. A garment rated UPF 50 permits only 1/50th, or about 2% of UV transmission. Any fabric that permits less than 2% is labeled UPF 50+.
- Looser fit. Despite what you might think, a looser-fitting garment is more effective at protecting you from the sun, because tighter-fitting material stretches the fabric, allowing more sun in, said Tareen.
- Full coverage. To maximize sun protection, our experts advised shopping garments that cover more of your body, like long sleeves, high collars and extendable cuffs.
- Tight weave. The denser the fabric, the better it blocks the rays, says Tareen. For a quick visual check, Tareen recommends holding the garment up to the sunlight to gauge its transparency.
- Dark or bright colors. The more intense the hue, the better the protection the clothing will provide,” says The Skin Cancer Foundation, Dark or bright colors, including red, black and navy blue, absorb more UV rays than lighter colors, like whites and pastels, according to the foundation.
- Type of material. Different types of material matter as well, according to Dr. Naiara Braghiroli, a dermatologist at the Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute. For instance, unbleached cotton, rayon, flax and hemp all consist of natural fibers that absorb UV rays, while shiny polyester, nylon or lightweight satin silks deflect the rays and are considered more protective, she said.
- Quick-drying fabrics. UV protection appears to be less effective when clothes are wet, according to a study conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, so it’s best to invest in a quick-drying material treated with UPF, such as polyester and nylon, say experts.
What other ways can you protect yourself from the sun’s rays?
UPF clothing is the first line of defense against the sun’s harmful rays, says experts. Here are a few other things they recommend you consider when heading outside in the warmer months.
- Seek out shade. “This is especially important between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when UV rays are strongest,” says Hurlbert.
- Wear a hat. Hats with a wide brim are preferable so your neck and ears are covered, says Hurlbert. Like swimwear, the best hats should have a UPF rating of 50+, made of a material that is quick-drying and deflects UV rays.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and the delicate skin that surrounds them, says Hurlbert.
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Anna Guanche, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Bella Skin Institute.
- Dr. Charles Crutchfield III is a clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School.
- Dr. Mohiba Tareen, FAAD, a clinical assistant professor of Dermatology at Columbia University.
- Dr. Naiara Braghiroli is a dermatologist at the Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute.
- Marc Hurlbert, Ph.D., is CEO of the Melanoma Research Alliance.
Why trust Select?
Barbara Booth has been covering wellness and health care for over a decade at CNBC and Select and has published guides on best mineral sunscreens, best UPF hats, best walking shoes, best under-eye patches, and more. For this piece, Barbara and a former Select staffer interviewed five experts and researched dozens of swimwear pieces with UPF 50+ on today’s market. Included are brands recommended by experts, along with those that are highly rated and meet expert shopping guidance.