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Swim Shirts, Sun Shirts & Rash Guards: What’s the Difference?

By , On , In Sun Protection

When choosing UV protective clothing, it’s important to consider what activities you’ll be doing in them. This will ensure you find an optimal balance between comfort and functionality for all of your outdoor activities. A common misunderstanding among customers is the difference between sun shirts, swim shirts, and rash guards. 

While the terms “sun shirt”, “swim shirt” and “rash guard” are commonly used interchangeably, they are actually two different products serving very different needs. So what’s the difference between them? Let’s dive into it. 

Swim Shirts vs. Sun Shirts

Dr Lize Wiese wearing a sun shirt and other upf clothing walking on the beach

Swim Shirts 

Swim shirts are just that: shirts made to swim in. Typically coming in a more relaxed fit, swim shirts fit like a regular t-shirt, but with the added benefit of UV-protection. Comfort is of course a concern when playing in the water, especially when it comes to chafing, which is why they use soft anti-chafe seams similar to rashguards. 

The relaxed fit and water compatibility features make swim shirts a popular choice for anyone looking to seamlessly transition between the beach and boardwalk. They are also a popular choice for active individuals, such as boogie boarders, who require flexibility and sun protection for spending longer periods in the water. For this reason, swim shirts are commonly referred to as surf shirts, and are a great choice for anyone who enjoys water activities.

Sun Shirts

Sun Shirts, on the other hand, are better suited for activities out of the water. While they typically feature water-wicking technology in the fabric, their main attraction is their UPF rating. Because they are not designed to be worn in the water, sun shirts aren’t confined to specific shapes or seams, which enables companies to create a wider variety of styles and colours. 

This greater variety in styles makes them a more popular option for daily wear and also means you can get great sun protective clothing for a variety of activities. Whether you’re relaxing outdoors, going out for a jog, or doing yard work under the hot sun, there’s a sun shirt to suit all your needs.

What is a Rash Guard?

Introducing swim shirts tighter fitting companion, the rash guard. Rash guards boast all of the same benefits as a swim shirt, with the added bonus of water-ready compression. Because of this feature, rash guards are popular for high-output water activities such as surfing. This also means that rash guards are a less comfortable option for wearing around town, but it’s all a matter of personal preference. Rash guards are a water-use athletic shirt made of nylon, spandex (elastane) and/or polyester. They’re so much more than a shirt though, with added benefits including:

  • A snug fit to help to keep your core warm and easily move through the water.
  • Protection from UV ray exposure and sun burns.
  • Protection from sand and board abrasions.
  • Protection from ocean debris, jellyfish and anemone stings.
  • Quick-drying fabric to keep your core warm out of the water.
  • Insulating fabric to keep your muscles warm in the water, which also helps to prevent cramps and fatigue. 

Sun Protective Fabrics

father and son wearing a rashguard, building a sandcastle on the beach

In addition to creating a barrier from the sun, sun shirts, swim shirts and rash guards have the extra benefit of being constructed with advanced technology fabrics. Regular fabrics like cotton have looser weaves that allow UV rays to pass through. This means less protection for your skin, especially when the fabric is wet or stretched.

This is where high UPF fabrics have the advantage. Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is a numerical rating that indicates how effective a fabric is at protecting you from UV exposure. A cotton shirt, for example, has a UPF of approximately 5. UPF 30 is considered good, while UPF 50+ is excellent. These fabrics feature tighter weaves and mineral ingredients to help form a barrier from the sun’s rays.

Sun protective clothing is your best protection when enjoying outdoor activities. In addition to seeking shade and re-applying sunscreen, taking precautionary measures to protect your skin can make all the difference in preventing sunburns and skin cancers. 

How to Choose Your Sun Protection

Choosing the right sun protection largely depends on what activities you plan on enjoying. For example, a UPF50+ sun shirt is a great choice if you’ll be cycling around town or playing a round of golf. If you’ll be in and out of the water, a swim shirt is the ideal go-between.

However, if water sports are your main activity, a rash guard will be your best bet. 

Finding Quality Rash Guards in Canada

Not all rash guards are created equal, so it’s important to look for quality garments. This includes:

  • Ensuring that the stitching lies flat, as flatlock seams will help to prevent chafing when you’re on your board paddling.
  • Making sure that you’ve got the right fit; for high-intensity water sports, rash guards should be snug. If you’re planning on transitioning between leisure and activity, a looser fit will be more comfortable.
  • Choosing high-quality fabrics, such as quick-drying UPF 50+ fabrics that are chlorine and saltwater resistant. 

Finding the Right Fit 

Despite their many similarities, there are important differences to consider when deciding between a swim shirt, sun shirt and rash guard. The first and most important consideration to make is whether you plan on wearing your shirt on land, in water, or a combination of both. 

If you intend to use this shirt even occasionally in the water, a swim shirt will satisfy this need, while still giving you the option to wear it around town. On the other hand, if you are looking to add uv-protection to your everyday clothing, a sun shirt will be your best bet. Sun shirts will also be more versatile and come in a variety of options, including pull-overs, button-ups, and hoodies. 

Worry Less, Enjoy More 

Dr Ben Wiese and his kids playing on the beach, wearing sun protective clothing

Don’t let harmful UV rays stop you from enjoying the beautiful weather. Thanks to the advancements in sun-smart clothing, we can do more of what we love and worry less about those harmful rays. Like Drs. Ben and Lize Wiese always say, “prevention is better than the cure.”

Whether you’re preparing for a winter vacation or planning ahead for the warmer months, it’s important to stay mindful of the risks associated with UV exposure. Sun and swim shirts are a great way to stay protected, giving you the peace of mind to spend more time focusing on your favourite outdoor activities. 

For more information on sun protective clothing, be sure to check out our blog post: All You Need to Know About UPF Clothing.