When it comes to sunscreen, applying more is more. And with rash guards and surf wear riding fashion's trend wave, the same could be said about the latest swimwear, which is stylish yet smartly covered up. Designed in protective fabrics constructed with denser weaves or coated with ultraviolet-shielding dyes or sunscreens that claim to block up to 98% of UV rays, this beachwear with built-in sunblock adds a bonus buffer.
Similar to an SPF (sun protection factor) rating for sunscreen, a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating for fabric measures protection from both UVA and UVB rays.
After repeat washings and wearings, UPF fabrics will stretch out and their sun-protective coatings will disintegrate, gradually rendering any UV-blocking capacities ineffective. So while the new, more covered swim styles in UPF fabrics offer an extra layer of sun protection, the emphasis is on "extra," so don't leave home without sunscreen.
"It is better than nothing, but, in a sense, [it creates] a false sense of security because unless it's a bathing suit shaped like a burka, it's not going to do you any good because of the areas that are exposed," says Beverly Hills dermatologist Harold Lancer, who counts Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian among his clients. "Sunscreen use, literally from head to toe, even before putting on swimwear, is far more important than any fabric."
Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States, affecting 1 in 5 Americans, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, and 90% of the visible signs of skin aging are attributed to sun exposure. Lancer says those signs include ruddy skin, enlarged pores, dilated capillaries and irregular pigmentation.
What's critical, he says, is to apply a sunscreen with "broad spectrum" on the label, meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB rays, to the skin's entire surface, even ears and parts in the hair; a lotion rather than a spray ensures more even coverage. He notes that an SPF 30 is adequate for most skin types, as body temperature causes any level of SPF to break down, and regular reapplication is crucial — every couple of hours when outdoors, about every hour when active outdoors or in water and two or three times per day when indoors.
An infant's more fragile skin is particularly sensitive to sun damage — Lancer says that infants younger than 6 months shouldn't be in the sun — so babies require maximum coverage. Crewcuts offers stylish baby rash guards (some to match Mommy's) in UPF 50 nylon/Lycra spandex fabric to fit sizes 0-24 months, $32 at jcrew.com.
Since sun damage is cumulative, it is paramount to teach kids early about the importance of taking cover from the sun; last year, J. Crew began offering UPF-labeled pieces. Crewcuts boys' neon baseball-style rash guard, $39.50 in UPF 50 polyester/spandex fabric at jcrew.com.
Five-year-old company Glamourpuss NYC, created by Gigi Mortimer and Courtney Moss, who both had worked for luxury fashion brands, includes stylish sportswear for beach or street. Color-block Bond Girl swim tunic in quick-dry UPF 50+ Lycra Sport fabric, $185 at glamourpussnyc.com.
Pair one of the latest swim T-shirts with any swimsuit bottom to create a chic, alternative two-piece suit. Cover scallop-cut Swim T in UPF 50+ Protec Swim Jersey fabric, $110 at coverswim.com.
The sun-protective fabric created by Glamourpuss NYC is sustainable, made of recycled yarn; Zuma beach short fast-drying in UPF 50+ Lycra Sport fabric, $125 at glamourpussnyc.com or Just Denise in Hermosa Beach, (310) 376-5702.
Crafted of a durable UPF 50+ Supplex nylon fabric with drainable mesh pockets, these L.L. Bean swim and sport shorts in a preppy lobster-embellished stripe print are ready for adventure, $29.95 at llbean.com.
Three-year-old company Mott 50 offers sun-protective rash guards, swim dresses, activewear and relaxed sportswear essentials; Sonja swim tunic with adjustable ruched sides in UPF 50 nylon/spandex fabric, $115 at mott50.com.
Mott 50 donates a percentage of its proceeds to melanoma research and sun safety education for kids; Madeline rash guard in UPF 50 nylon/spandex fabric, $95 at mott50.com.
Land's End rash guard swim sets for girls offer a fashionable way to increase sun protection; rash guard and swim skirt set in quick-dry UPF 50 nylon/spandex fabric, $17.99 at landsend.com.
Swap out Dad's T-shirt for a lightweight UV-screening swim shirt that he can wear in or out of the water; Land's End men's striped rash guard in quick-dry UPF 50 nylon/spandex fabric, $29.99 at landsend.com.
Founded by melanoma survivor Melissa Papock, Cabana Life offers stylish sun-protective swimwear, cover-ups and accessories for the whole family; reversible Punch swim hat in UPF 50+ nylon-spandex fabric for babies and kids, 6 months-2T, $26 at cabanalife.com.