Parents in Australia are incredibly cautious when it comes to sun safety for their kids. We invest in sun safe swimwear for our children, we look for the UPF certification on the labels, and we definitely slip on long sleeves, slap on hats and slop on the SPF liberally.
But there's one area where all of our efforts can quickly come unknowingly undone over time, a thing that most parents just aren't aware of, and it's this.
Did you know, that if not cared for properly, the UPF swimwear that you invested in for your kids offers less and less sun protection over time?
To understand why, and crucially how to ensure your kids swimsuit stays as sun safe as the day you bought it, we have to dive a little into the science. But don't worry, I promise I'll make it quick.
How does the sun protection in your kids UPF swimwear work?
UPF = ultra-violet protection factor. It's assigned only to clothing - like a UPF swimsuit - rather than creams and lotions. The UPF rating measures the ability of fabric to block out the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays, both UVA and UVB. When it comes to sun safe swimwear and the UPF rating, bigger really is better. UPF50+ means that only 1/50 of the sun's UV rays can penetrate the clothing. Children's swimwear boasting a UPF50+ rating can be considered much more sun safe than swimsuits without or with a lower UPF rating, especially if you choose a long-sleeve style (just remember to lather lotion anywhere the swimsuit doesn't cover!)
But how do we make your kids swimwear sun safe? Well UPF has to do with both the treatment applied to the fabric, and the weave and fit of the fabric itself. The tighter the weave, and the thicker the fabric, the fewer of the suns rays that make it through (fully lined swimsuits for the win!). But when it comes to fit, the opposite is true. When you stretch out your kids swimwear too much, the fibres of the fabric stretch out, and more of the sun's UV rays can penetrate through.
How does UPF children's swimwear become less sun safe over time?
We've already explained how your child's UPF swimwear attains this sun safe rating through both the treatment and the weave of the fabric within it. The problem is, that both of these things can degrade over time, and even more so through some really common activities that almost every parent and child will be doing without realising!
Think about all of the following activities that can impact how sun safe your children's swimwear remains. I'll bet your family is doing almost all of them, almost every time the swimsuit is used! But worry not, with some simple tweaks, your child's UPF swimsuit can remain just as sun safe as ever.
The way you wash your child's UPF swimsuit
Both the method and cleaning agent you use to wash your kids' sun safe swimwear can have an impact on its UPF rating. This is because certain chemicals can start to degrade the UPF treatment, and more rigorous wash cycles can also start to break down the fibres and loosen the weave of the fabric (not to mention shaking loose more micro-plastics that wash back into our ecosystem...)
How you dry your kids UPF swimwear
When drying your children's UPF swimwear, consider how your drying method will impact the weave of the fabric and therefore its sun safety. This can be negatively impacted when your child's swimsuit becomes too heated, stretched, or the fibres are worn down or stressed. UPF swimwear and a hot and tumultuous session through your tumble dryer are not a match made in heaven!
An even more surprising fact is that a UPF swimsuit actually doesn't like being damp for too long! Investing in kids swimwear in a quick drying material (check!) is another tool in your sun protection arsenal.
What chemicals your children's UPF swimsuit is exposed to
Sweat, salt, sun cream and chlorine! All just part and parcel of a fun day in the summer sun for your kids UPF swimsuit! Unfortunately, not all of these chemicals are made equal when it comes to preserving the sun safety and UPF rating on your children's swimwear. Where you swim, and the sunscreen you use, can all have a greater or lesser impact on the treatment applied to your UPF swimwear.
How you stretch and shape your children's UPF swimwear
We've already established how important the weave and fit of the fabric on your child's UPF swimwear is for sun safety. So it stands to reason that when the fibres of that swimsuit become too far stretched, either through the way the swimsuit is washed, dried or worn, the more of the sun's harmful UV waves will make it through, thus diminishing its sun protective power.
How can you look after your kids UPF swimwear to maintain maximum sun protection?
Now that you understand the importance of preserving not just the UPF treatment on your kids sun safe swimsuit, but also the fit and weave of the UPF fabric, taking care of their swimwear to preserve maximum sun safety becomes that much easier to do.
So when you head back from another fun day at the beach or the pool, this simple sun safe checklist will help you maintain the sun-stopping power of your kids UPF swimwear:
1. Make sure to wash kids UPF swimwear after every use - even if they don't go in the water (sunscreen can also start to degrade the sun protection in the fabric)
2. For the best results, wash and rinse your children's UPF swimsuit by hand in cold water. Use a detergent specifically designed for delicates or high-spandex fabrics.
3. Chlorine is harsher on swimwear fabrics than fresh and salt water, so be extra vigilant about giving UPF swimwear a rinse immediately after a dip in the pool.
4. Try not to leave soggy UPF swimwear in your beach bag too long! It's not always practical, and we certainly wouldn't want to get in the way of a fun day at the beach, but where possible give your kids UPF swimsuit a rinse in fresh, cold water (e.g. a beach shower) as soon as they're done wearing it.
5. Don’t put your child's UPF swimsuit in the dryer. The heat weakens the elasticity of the spandex, making it more susceptible to let those pesky UV rays through, reducing how sun safe the fabric is.
6. Same goes for wringing out sun safe swimwear, as this can stretch and damage the fibres.
7. To dry UPF swimwear for maximum sun safety, gently roll the swimsuit in a clean dry towel, lightly pressing to remove the excess water instead.
8. Leave to dry flat away from direct sunlight. This isn't just about preserving collours (as commonly thought, although it definitely helps! When it comes to sun safety, this also prevents your childs swimsuit stretching out and the fibres of the fabric being damaged by intense sunlight.
Sun safe swimwear starts with UPF... and ends with you!
So there you have it, ensuring the sun safety of your children under the hot Aussie summer sun may start with investing in sun safe UPF kids swimwear, but how you care for that swimwear has an impact on your children's sun protection too! Cared for properly, quality UPF kids swimwear should offer the best possible sun protection throughout many Summer seasons and beyond. Just don't forget to slip, slap, and slop. Hats, long sleeves and plenty of sunscreen are also essential sun safe tools on the hottest summer days!