UV protective swimsuits for children are a relatively new phenomenon, they were introduced into the UK at the end of the 90's and joined mainstream fashion from around 2002. There is no standard nomenclature in the market for sun protective swimwear.
UV suit is the most common term, but surf suit, sunsuit, skin and the rather horrible "rash suit" are all used interchangeably in the trade. Whatever you call it, this is a swimsuit designed to protect the wearer from sun damage and works in two ways: it covers more skin than a traditional swimsuit, and the fabric used is specifically designed to block out the sun's damaging rays.
The basic style of the garment does not vary much: most go from elbow to knee, with a high neck and zip up front. This gives good coverage of the areas of a child's body most prone to burn, but allows freedom of movement and is fairly cool to wear. Styles with long sleeves and legs are available, but many children find these restrictive and hot. The better cut UV suits have panels so the garment fits the body shape and moves well when wet.
The fabric used in a protective garment of this kind should have a UPF rating and the manufacturer should display this on the garment tags. UPF is the fabric's Ultraviolet Protection Factor. UPF50 + is the highest rating awarded to fabric. A garment with UPF50 will allow one fifieth of the UVR to pass through, UPF40 will allow one fortieth and so on. This means:
– A UPF50 + garment will block more than 98% of the sun's rays
– A UPF40 + will block more than 97.5%.
A child wearing a garment with UPF50 + could spend 4 hours (240 minutes) in the sun and receive less than 5 minutes worth of damaging rains on covered areas (240 minures / 50 = 4.8 mins). Of course, in the summer care must always be taken to ensure exposed skin is properly applied sunscreen (SPF is a measure of the protection provided by sunscreens) and eyes protected with sunglasses.
The protection on most UPF50 UV suits does not come from a chemical finish to the fabric, but by the incredibly decent knit. Most have a very high lycra content to ensure the garment keeps its shape well when wet and either a plyycotton or nylon base. The nylon / lycra is the faster drying option and is better for children who are in and out of the water constantly without getting changed. The polycottons and blended fabrics have a more natural hand touch, but do take considerably longer to dry and so are better used for paddling rather than swimming as the higher water retention can be chilling.
Fabric testing is done in laboratories on dry, unstretched fabric for consistent results. Europe and Australia use a slightly different spectrum to test fabric so protective garments marked in both hemispheres should be tested to both standards. The regulations governing testing in Europe is EN13758-1 2002 and in Australia and New Zealand AS / NZ 4399-1996.
A limited range of specialist protective swimwear is available in the High Street, and a wide variety is available all year around from on-line stores which specialize in protective swimwear for children.