Sun shirts can be the best way to get the kind of protection from ultraviolet (UV) radiation you'd get from applying sunscreen to your upper body. Sun protection clothing is given a UPF rating, but this is only part of the story and choosing the right one depends on what activities you expect to do. Sun shirts vary widely in sun coverage, UPF protection, breathability, and comfort. Some shirts are designed with comfort in mind, like short sleeve crew neck or button-down shirts; others, like hoody models, are designed for comprehensive upper body and neck protection. In this review, we'll rank the 10 best sun protection shirts, citing the pros and cons of each, to help you the pick one that is just right for you.
The Best Sun Protection Shirts
This is a shirt you can hike in all day and wear out to dinner at night. It's a great travel shirt that can be dressed up or down depending on the occasion. The sleeves easily roll up (and a button holds them in place), and the back panel effectively vents, giving it good hot weather performance. Also, the material itself is light, soft and breathable.
The main drawback is the laundering care it requires. If you don't air dry, the shirt easily wrinkles. The UPF rating of 40 is good, but not great. The non-lite version of this shirt has a higher UPF rating of 50 but is not as breathable. Another drawback is the limited color selection. The non-lite version comes in 15+ colors while the Lite version is usually only available in 5. Overall, this is our favorite shirt for everyday use compared to the more techy models that are more appropriate for outdoor activities.
This is a great value for a button-down and one of the lighter and more breathable shirts. It excels in hot and humid climates where the lighter fabric and back venting help regulates your temp. It's one of the more wrinkle-resistant long sleeve shirts. The sleeves roll up and snap in place for added cooling and a more casual look.
The main downside is the sizing and style. It has the more classic, "American Hiking Tourist" look with a more boxy cut and large chest pockets. The sleeves run a little short, and the body of the shirt is a little long. That said, if you don't mind the style, there is not much to complain about. It's a very functional shirt at a great price.
This is one of our favorite travel shirts as it is light, resists wrinkles and is stylish. It performs well on the trails and around town. The "stealth" hidden pocket is ideal for hiding cash, a card, an id or tickets. While many sun protective shirts have a more dated design, the Stealth shirt has a contemporary cut and cool angled pockets. For a synthetic shirt, this shirt resists body odor well.
While the buttons are cool, they are not the most user-friendly. Also, the hidden pocket is not that easy to access. The slim fit is ideal if you are, well, slim. If you carry a little extra weight in the middle, you will have to size up, and the rest of the shirt may not fit as well.
Whether you are swimming, surfing, or just hanging at the beach, this is our favorite option. It's loose enough to be comfortable, but tight enough to not feel clumsy when in the water. It's light enough to dry fast but still gives the maximum UPF 50 protection.
Without a hood, pockets or zippers, it's not as versatile as other shirts. This is not a shirt you wear out on the town and may even seem a little out of place while hiking. As with many tight-fitting clothes, sizing can be tricky. But at its low price, it's a great value if you spend time in the water.
This is the least expensive UPF-rated shirt we have come across. The simple design includes no pockets, hoods or zippers or even logos. The thin material dries fast and keeps you cool. It comes in a variety of colors ranging from vibrant to basic. The more bright colors are great for making vehicles aware of you if you are cycling or running.
The fit can be a little hard to get right, and the simple design is not the most flattering or stylish. The thin material reveals the shapes of your body. That said, the overall price makes this shirt hard to pass up. At the very least, it's a solid choice for outdoor workouts.
The R0 offers the most protection of any shirt if you are going to get dunked in the water. It's ideal for surfing, boogie boards and any other sport where a hat would get washed off. It offers the best neck protection of any shirt we have seen and it one of the few with a built-in brim. It also hooks into board shorts to keep from getting pulled up in a wipeout. A generous back panel easily holds a phone.
The downside of no neck zipper is that it is not very breathable when you are out of the water. This is also the most activity-specific shirt in our roundup. If you're not involved in a water sport, it looks out of place both because of the hood and the fit. Overall, it's a shirt that excels at the specific activities it was designed for.
This is the best shirt we've seen if you don't need max breathability, hand or neck coverage like our #1 pick. Without those features, this shirt has a much better look for around town. The material has a more comfortable look than many sun shirts that have a more slippery and shiny texture. This material also has a more flattering look for all body types.
The pocket is big enough for keys and a small music player, but too small for a phone. It's relatively expensive compared to some of the other shirts in this lineup. That said, it's the shirt we reach for more than any other for everyday active use.
At a third the cost of most other options, this shirt is a tremendous value. It has the highest UPF rating and good coverage. The material is very light and packable whether you are traveling or don't want to take up much space in your backpack or gym bag.
The only thing it lacks is a little refinement and style. It also doesn't have pockets, or thumb holes like many other hooded shirts do. The slim fit is ideal for toned bodies. But many people may need to size up for the most comfort and best look. For practical hooded sun protection at a great price, it can't be beat.
This is the best looking and versatile hooded shirt in our lineup. If you're traveling and want to carry as few items as possible, get it. It's equally at home while working out or going out to a casual dinner. It's ideal for sun protection at the beach or just a cozy shirt to wear after you wake up. It also seems to resist odor more than other shirts that are 100% synthetic. Despite having no zipper or mesh in the armpits, it still breathes well and performs well in hot weather.
Merino wool has a unique look and feel. The comfort of merino comes down to personal preference. Some people find it a little itchy. Others find it the coziest material available. One downside is that this shirt is only available in a few colors. And, of course, there is the hefty price tag. But overall, we have found this to be the most versatile travel layer we have seen. It bridges the gap between most hooded shirts that have a techy look and the button ups that often are not ideal for intense workouts and activities.
Sun Protective Clothing Selection Tips
It's never been more important to protect yourself from UV radiation from the sun. SkinCancer.org estimates 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer. If that doesn't get your attention, maybe vanity will: the sun causes 90% of skin aging. While sunscreen is helpful, there is nothing as effective (other than staying indoors) as clothing, hats, or sunglasses that block that all or most of the suns UV radiation.
Sun protective clothing comes in three main designs: best for traveling and around town, best for high heart rate activities and best for water use. Consider your climate and activity. Shirts that are best for swimming and water sports are usually simple with no hood or pockets and have a snug fit. Shirts that are best for high heart rate activities have mesh vents at key areas and/or a big zipper down the front. If you want a shirt for travel that you can wear while hiking as well as around town, style and versatility are big factors. For these reasons, you likely want a button down.
What is a Sun Shirt?
A sun shirt has a UPF rating, the clothing equivalent of the SPF rating used for sunscreens. While sunscreen is only required to measure sun protection against UVB rays, the UPF rating gives you the effectiveness against UVA and UVB (some broad-spectrum sunscreens are rated for and protect against UVA). UPF ratings range from a low of 25 to the highest rating of 50+. A lower number means more UV radiation passes through. 50+ means that less than 2% of the suns UV radiation can get through the fabric. A shirt without a UPF rating may still block the sun, but you won't know to what extent. For perspective, a thin t-shirt may offer a UPF rating of 5, meaning that 20% of the UV radiation passes through.Keep in mind that UPF ratings apply when a product is new, dry and not stretched out. Over time, as a product wears, it becomes less protective. Also, when a shirt is wet or stretched (over the shoulders for example), it's also less protective. Choose a looser cut to ensure you are getting maximum protection.
Do You Need a Sun Shirt?
Many shirts without a UPF rating will still adequately block the sun. The challenge is knowing how protective a shirt is. As mentioned above, a typical thin t-shirt might only have a UPF rating of 5. On the other hand, ConsumerReports found that a Hanes Beefy T had a UPF rating of 39. In general, CR found that UPF-rated clothing often had measured UV protection higher than what the manufacturer claimed. The bottom line: the UPF rating confirms that the shirt has sun protection that is likely at least as high as they claim, if not more.
Advantages of Sun Shirts Over Sunscreen
The main advantage of sun protective clothing is you don't have to apply and then re-apply sunscreen to the covered areas. This is especially helpful for water sports or activities where you sweat a lot and would have to consistently re-apply sunscreen. Most people are shocked when they learn just how often you are supposed to re-apply sunscreen and in what quantity. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends:
1) Apply sunscreen every 2 hours (more if you swim or towel off)
2) Apply roughly two tablespoons to the face and body (to the face alone that means a big dollop the diameter of a nickel)
3) You apply at least 20 minutes before sun exposure.
How often do you follow the above three guidelines? According to SkinCancer.org and many experts, the number of people who use sunscreen as directed is pretty small. Therefore, wearing sun protective clothing in addition to wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses is likely to be the best option to achieve adequate UV protection.Remember, even if you're wearing a hoody and a big hat, reflection off of water and snow can burn your neck and face. Apply sunscreen to any non-covered surfaces.
Hood or no hood?
A hood can offer a lot more sun protection. When worn over a baseball cap, you can often block most or all sun exposure. If gardening, doing yard work, or another activity where you bend over a hat, even a wide-brimmed hat, may not offer the protection a hat worn with a hood can. If you're biking and not able to wear a hat, a hood can be one of the only ways to cover your ears and neck. That said, a hood can be a lot hotter than wearing a big hat, which offers more air circulation around your next and head.
Related: The Best Sun Hats of 2019
Crew Necklines, Zip Necklines and Collars
Most skin cancer occurs on the head, neck, and arms according to Cancer.org. The neck, especially the area where a t-shirt stops, is an often overlooked area. Crew necklines are the most basic design, similar to a t-shirt, and offer the least neck protection. Almost all zip necklines cover more of the neck and provide more ventilation options. Collars offer more protection than a crew neckline, especially when the collar is turned up.
Thumbholes and Pockets
Thumbholes can give extra sun protection to the back of your hand. That said, most shirt with thumb holes only protect about half of the back of your hand, depending on the design. Each design has a different level of protection. Thumbholes do help ensure that, if you wear gloves, there is little to no gap between the gloves and your shirt.
Some shirts have pockets big enough for a smartphone while others are only big enough for a key or a small music player. Consider the location of the pocket based on your activity. Low pockets can be ideal for biking and hiking but are not ideal if you are running, when it's best to have a pocket on the chest or shoulder.
Sun protective shirts are one of the most versatile layers you can buy. They offer UV protection and double either as a great base layer or around town travel shirt. There are as many styles of sun shirts as there are activities. Make sure you choose the shirt that best suits your outdoor lifestyle.
— Chris McNamara