This shirt is a rash guard. If you're not familiar with what that means, it means it's tight fitting, the seams are sewn in places designed to rub less, and it will add an extra little bit of warmth to your water activities. It also means it's meant to withstand all the laps you want to swim, waves you want to surf, or sea turtles you want to snorkel with. While it may not have all the bells and whistles of some of the other sun shirts we reviewed, it's a great rash guard.
This shirt is a great rash guard with excellent coverage - great for snorkeling and other water sports!
Comfort & Fit
The O'Neill is made of soft, stretchy fabric that will contour to every line of your upper body. To do its job though, it has to be tight, so don't be duped into buying a bigger size for a looser fit! Though some may not enjoy just how form-fitted this shirt is, it sure doesn't constrict your range of motion as you're cutting through the water or waves. The sleeves are long enough and snug enough to provide total arm protection against the sun even while you surf the whole tide. Impressively, the wrists are tight enough to keep this shirt snug in place while you swim or windsurf through the waves - this is not the case with the Patagonia Micro Swell.
The seams are well-placed to avoid the parts of your body that may be in constant motion, especially when paddling down that chilly river or through those large waves. The Micro Swell also has rash guard placed seams, but they're not as comfortable as the O'Neill. The Basic Skins rash guard has soft seams that move and flex with you rather than scratch against your skin. Not only have these seams been relocated out of high-movement areas like your armpits and sides, but they're also conducive for paddle sports while wearing a life jacket. While the Micro Swell's arm seams rub uncomfortably against a PFD, the O'Neill does not. If you're a paddler, this is an important difference and one where the O'Neill clearly wins.
Compare a size XS, on two of our 5'4" testers.
The O'Neill Basic Skin has a wonderfully high UPF rating of 50+, meaning you don't have to remember to reapply that reef-safe sunscreen every 90 minutes while snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.
Though this shirt has no hood for neck protection or thumb holes to cover the backs of your hands, the crew neck is snug, and the sleeves come to a comfortable length to keep you freely moving. It's designed smartly to never giving you that scary drowning sensation of having a really tight neck or getting a wet hood trapped on top of your mouth. We were glad to have no extra frills on this shirt to keep us streamlined.
The crew neck keeps the sun off your shoulders while the flat seams stay comfortable even when wet.
This category is less of a concern with a rash guard, as it's really not meant to be worn out of the water. This tight layer acts as an additional barrier for your skin, giving you just a tad bit of extra warmth so you can play in the water just a tad longer. Once removed and wrung out, it dries quickly in the sun.
We like this rash guard a bit better than the Patagonia Micro Swell, as it's softer and more flexible and breathable to wear. The O'Neill allows better breathability through more supple material as well as keeps us warmer by being a better fit. Even for on the water (rather than in it) sports like kayaking, we prefer this shirt over the Micro Swell.
This model provides full arm coverage.
If you're already familiar with the O'Neill method of making water-wear, you've probably come across their polyester/spandex four-way stretch fabric before. This material stands up to a lot of wear and tear, even when set on the scratchy surface next to a pool or laid in the sand after exiting the waves.
The seams are stitched flat, which not only adds to their comfort but increases their durability. Compared to the Micro Swell, the O'Neill's seams are more embedded into the fabric and less likely to snag. Overall, this rashguard seems well-equipped the intensity of saltwater and sunshine.
A lack of seams in the armpits of this shirt helps prevent uncomfortable rubbing and rash formation when you paddle, surf, and swim.
This shirt is sleek and form-fitting. For a rash guard, this top is straight forward and functional. We think it's a reasonably cute option and available in solid colors, but isn't quite as stylish as the Patagonia Micro Swell, with its bold patterns.
Unfortunately, as the O'Neill is so specialized to water function, it's not the most versatile shirt. Our reviewers wouldn't recommend wearing it to the office or for a nice dinner after your beach day, but it's definitely worth rocking in the water!
The seam construction of the Patagonia Micro Swell (top) and O'Neill Basic Skins (bottom). The O'Neill is much more soft, comfortable, and durable.
The O'Neill has no 'bells and whistles' like some other types of sun shirts, but it's well-formed for a rash guard. The flat-stitched seams are a great asset to your active lifestyle.
Without a doubt, this shirt's best application is as a rash guard for in-water activities. If you're looking for a paddle shirt that's going to get wet (or soaked!), a top for surfing, or a way to avoid becoming a snorkeling lobster, the O'Neill is a great choice. If your beach plans involve more beach and less super active water sports, you might enjoy the more stylish, but less intense, Patagonia Micro Swell.
This top retails for $34, making it one of the least expensive sun shirts we tested. Considering how long it will last you and how much money you'll save from all the sunscreen you won't be applying, this shirt is a great value for what you get. Especially if in-water sports are your jam, or even if you're spending a week on a tropical beach in the middle of a dark and snowy winter, you'd be hard-pressed to find a reason not to pick up this sun shirt. Your skin will thank you.
At the end of the day, the O'Neill Basic Skins is a fantastic rash guard. If reading the litany of activities in this review sounds like your life, then this might be the shirt for you!
This is a great shirt to paddle in especially if you plan to get wet.