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There’s a common mistake many still make before spending time outdoors: underestimating the importance of a hat. Although sunscreen is an essential way to defend ourselves from sun damage, it isn’t the only sun protection out there. “Wearing clothing that has sun protection built into it is one of the most effective ways of protecting yourself from the sun,” explains Kemunto Mokaya, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Tennessee. “Institutions such as the Centers for Disease Control and the Skin Cancer Foundation consider clothing as the first-line in defense against UV radiation.” But clothes and sun protection aren’t obviously within the same category: It’s sun-blocking materials that some clothes sport to help your body avoid sun damage. We consulted experts like Mokaya and others to understand how UPF works and how to shop for the best UPF hats out there.
What is the difference between SPF and UPF?
A product’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a rating for sunscreens and cosmetic products that protect against UVB rays, explains Todd Minars, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Florida. “It loosely gives the person an indicator of how long they can be exposed to direct sunlight before their skin reddens,” he said. “SPF30 means you can be exposed to the sunlight approximately 30x longer than you would be able to without any SPF before getting red or early signs of a sunburn.”
While SPF rates topical products in their ability to protect against UVB rays, shoppers should be looking for Ultraviolet Protection Factor when it comes to clothing. “UPF is a rating that's used to measure the amount of UVA and UVB radiation that comes from the sun and is able to penetrate a person's clothing and reach their skin,” he said.
Topical SPF is a great tool, but it also isn’t perfect.
Dendy Engelman, Board-Certified Dermatologist
Why are UPF hats important?
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans develop some form of skin cancer by the age of 70. “Having more than five sunburns in your lifetime doubles your risk of developing melanoma, which is one of the most aggressive forms of skin cancer,” said Alissia Zenhausern, NMD, founder of NMD Wellness of Scottsdale. “It’s so aggressive that one person dies every hour from melanoma,” according to the nonprofit American Melanoma Foundation.
Since sunscreen has limits on its effectiveness, one expert advises people to avoid relying on it as their sole protection from sun exposure and instead think of it as an additional layer. “Topical SPF is a great tool, but it also isn’t perfect. For chemical sunscreen, it must be fully absorbed to work, about 30 min after application,” said Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “For physical sunscreen, if you do not have consistent application or an area rubs off, then you are not adequately protected.”
That’s why UPF clothing and accessories are a great addition to your summer wardrobe — they work immediately and can cover all areas of the body, the experts we consulted said.
How to buy clothes with UPF
Effective UPF clothing is very tightly woven together so that the sun's UV rays can't penetrate through and reach the skin, explains Minars. Shoppers should look for a UPF rating of at least 50 when buying for sun protection. To put this in perspective, “your standard cotton T-shirt has a UPF rating of 5 and UPF clothing often score at or over 50 UPF,” he added. “This is a big difference.”
Although many factors play into the best choice for you — including geography, time of day during exposure and an individual’s personal melatonin levels — Minars highlighted some general difference in clothing and accessories.
- UPF rating up to 25: good protection with up to 95 percent of UV radiation blocked.
- UPF Rating up to 40: great protection with up to 97 percent of UV radiation blocked.
- UPF rating 40+: best protection, with up to 98 percent (or more) of UV radiation blocked.
Best UPF hats to shop
Before spending time outside, it’s essential to put on a hat — but not all hats are created equal, of course. “Where hats can bite people is when they're made of straw or that mesh pattern found on most ballcaps,” said Minars. “Those ventilation factors make wearing the hats comfortable for airflow, but they fall short to protect your crown or scalp from sunburns or UV.”
There’s a clear favorite brand for the entire family that the experts we consulted agreed on: Coolibar. “You're going to be blown away at the options and, get this, the entire company only makes UPF gear,” Minars added. “I like seeing a producer devote all their items to UPF clothing, so this is the most comprehensive option for families.” But when it comes to the best hats for men, women, kids and babies across categories, these are the top favorites according to our experts.
Best women’s hats with UPF
Best affordable UPF hat for women: Simplicity
For those looking for protection without making a major investment, Mohiba Tareen, MD, FAAD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Columbia University, advises shoppers to check out Simplicity. Their line of budget-friendly sun hats includes this foldable, large brim hat with UPF 50+ fabric. Not only does it have stylish ribbon design but it’s also designed with an iron wire frame along the inner edge, making it completely crushable. Don’t worry about what happens to this in your bag or suitcase — it will regain its original shape with ease.
Best overall UPF hat for women: Coolibar
Not only does Coolibar have the Skin Cancer Foundation’s seal of recommendation but it also gets unanimous approval from our experts. “Coolibar is respected in gear quality and longevity, so it's a very safe purchase and one that should invoke confidence in the buyer,” said Minars. And with UPF 50+ protection in a fabric that’s both breathable as well as shapeable, this adjustable hat is a top pick.
Best women’s hat splurge: Eric Javits
Enjoy the look of a fashionable straw hat without compromising UPF features. Tareen recommends investing in this high-end, stylish and lightweight option. Not only does this style come in 12 different color options but it’s also designed to guard skin from 95 percent of UVA and UVB rays.
Best UPF baseball cap for women: Eddie Bauer
From a long run to a hike in the woods, Tareen recommends Eddie Bauer for both safe and practical hats. With UPF 50+ sun protection, moisture-wicking sweatband and a reflective print, this packable cap is ready to guard you during outdoor adventures.
Best sustainable hat for women: prAna
PrAna is a Fair Trade-certified brand focused on sustainable and versatile options. This UPF 50+ sun hat is made from responsibly sourced paper that comes in three colors. It also features a recycled polyester blend sweatband, floppy brim and faux suede drawcord to keep it secure on windy days.
Budget-friendly fedora with UPF: Simplicity
Rock a stylish hat that keeps your face not only out of the sun, but also protected from it. This braided straw fedora has UPF 50+ protection that keeps harmful rays from slipping through, a removable drawstring and adjustable built-in strap to ensure the right fit.
Best men’s hats with UPF
Best UPF baseball cap for men: Sunday Afternoons
Sunday Afternoons is highly recommended as one of the best UPF hat manufacturers, according to Minars — this style is his personal favorite. “It folds in half, is super packable, is water-friendly, UPF 50+ and just a tank for hard outdoor use,” he said. “I've left it on shorelines, swam with it, worked in it all day, etc and it just keeps on going — probably eight years later with no signs of compromise.”
Best UPF fedora hat for men: Coolibar
Whether you’re out golfing or spending some time at the beach, this stylish UPF 50+ hat will help keep you protected from the sun. Not only is it made from breathable natural straw but it sports an interior moisture-wicking sweatband and mesh grommets for increased airflow. A leather trim completes the polished look.
Best affordable full coverage UPF hat for men: Simplicity
This versatile, adventure-ready hat is ready for anything that nature throws its way. It’s waterproof, breathable, UPF 50+ and adjustable. With a wide brim, interior sweatband and flap to protect your head, neck and ears, this foldable hat is a solid choice for keeping you covered in the sun.
Best UPF boating hat for men: Coolibar
Stay protected during a day on the water with this UPF 50+ hat. The convertible style allows you to add extra neck coverage when you want while a covered mesh panel and sweatband help keep you cool. Plus, there’s a removable toggle chin cord and adjustability at the crown to combat the wind and keep this hat securely in place.
Best UPF hats for kids
Best UPF water hat for kids: Coolibar
Whether they’re splashing in the pool or enjoying some time at the beach, this travel-friendly UPF 50+ hat will be a water day staple. You don’t have to worry about the fabric fading thanks to the chlorine- and saltwater-resistant material — the crown is adjustable so it can grow with your kiddo over the years.
Best UPF convertible hat for kids: UV Skinz
UV Skinz is a go-to brand for Tareen. As a mom of five, Tareen appreciates both the safety and practicality of these UPF 50+ hats that she said actually stay on little heads. Plus, this versatile style has a sun flap to cover ears and necks but can also be tucked away.
Best UPF baseball hat for kids: Coolibar
With an internal mesh sweatband that absorbs sweat that helps the hat stay in place, this UPF 50+ hat and its water-friendly version offer both adjustability and protection.
Best splurge hat for kids: Wallaroo
Baby shark fans obsess over these playful shark and crocodile designs, but it’s the UPF 50+ fabric that will have parents loving them just as much. Made from 100 percent cotton, these adorable hats feature a velcro chin strap to keep them in place, as well as an internal adjustable drawstring to help achieve a close fit.
Best sports UPF hat for kids: Coolibar
When it comes to shopping for optimal sun protection accessories, Anna Guanche, MD, FAAD, founder of Bella Skin Institute turns to Coolibar for everything. “Coolibar is an amazing brand that has research to back their claims,” she said. This full coverage sports hat features an attached neck drape for additional protection as kids splash in the water, and comes in a quick-drying, UPF 50+ material that’s both chlorine- and saltwater- resistant.
Best UPF bucket hat for kids: Coolibar
From backyards and road trip adventures to running around the park, this UPF 50+ bucket hat with a 3-inch brim keeps kids shielded from harmful rays. But it’s the internal sweat band and breakaway chin strap that makes this a stand-out option for kids.
Best UPF hats for babies
Best water hat for babies: Coolibar
“This brand has the lightest fabrics and their materials stand up to sweat, salt and chlorine for a lifetime,” said Tareen. “That’s particularly important if you have five kids like me and pass down clothing over the years.” This wide-brimmed sun hat offers UPF 50+ protection and a quick-drying fabric to keep little ones protected and comfortable.
Best affordable UPF water hat for babies: i play. by green sprouts
Anya Stassiy, PA-C, who specializes in medical and aesthetic dermatology, loves these i play hats for the coverage they give little necks and ears. They are also machine-washable, come in a UPF 50+ water-wicking material and feature an adjustable toggle to grow with the baby.
Best bucket hat for babies: Durio
With reversible patterns, playful 3D animal details and a range of colors, there’s an adorable option for every baby fashionista. But even more importantly, these lightweight sun hats block up to 98 percent of UVA and UVB rays with a UPF 50+ cotton and polyester fabric.
Best overall hat for babies: i play. by green sprouts
It doesn’t matter if your plans involve swim or sun, this breathable unisex sun hat is ideal for all outdoor adventures. With a water-friendly foam brim to help keep its sun-blocking shape, elastic back to grow with baby and secure straps, this quick-drying UPF 50+ hat is both versatile and budget-friendly.
Best beanie hat for babies: Coolibar
Keep your baby’s head safe from harmful sun rays with adorable UPF 50+ critter hats. The organic cotton fabric is made with a blend of naturally sun-blocking bamboo that’s both soft-yet-protective for a baby’s sensitive skin.
Best swim cap for babies: Coolibar
It’s true, from the adorable bow to the variety of prints with snap brim detail, these baby swim hats are precious. However, it’s the UPF 50+ fabric, internal terry sweatband and water-repelling material that’s both salt water- and chlorine-resistant that has parents taking note.
Best sun hat for babies: UV Skinz
Given the amount of time Tareen’s five kids have spent in these UPF 50+ sun protective hats, she knows that they aren’t only safe but actually stay on with their simple tie. These water-friendly, reversible hats also come in an array of patterns with a ruffle detail to complete any adorable sun-safe ensemble.
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