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How to Choose the Best Sun Protection Hat

How to Choose the Best Sun Protection Hat

Make Sun Protection a Way of Life and Enjoy the Great Outdoors

Unfortunately, there is no one and done solution for sun protection, and there is no magic to erase sun damage. Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen religiously is one important part of a good sun protection regimen. Understanding what the SPF rating means helps in the selection and application of an effective sunscreen that will protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Knowing that prolonged exposure to sunlight and repeated sunburns can lead to serious skin damage and possibly skin cancer provides motivation to establish a functional sun protection lifestyle. UPF rated hats and clothing are the next essential part of an effective sun protection that protect against both ultraviolet radiation A and B. 

Just a quick review from our previous post about what UPF and SPF ratings measure and what they do not.

What UPF Ratings Mean

UPF, Ultraviolet Protection Factor is rating system originally established in Australia to enhance the understanding of sun protection provided by swimwear and clothing in addition to the sun blocking provided by sunscreen. In 2001 with some additional requirement the US standard was established. US testing also includes the effects of wear and tear to the fabric due to use and washing.

Ultraviolet Protection Factor is a rating system that gives a numerical rating to show how effectively a garment (hats, clothing, fabric) blocks ultraviolet rays. The UPF testing measures how much of ultraviolet radiation A and B (UVA and UVB rays) get through a fabric, hat and apparel and reach your skin. If you remember, SPF test only rates how much of the UVB rays are blocked by sunscreens. 

There are three categories of UPF rating, good, very good, and excellent sun protection. For a garment to be rated and labeled as sun protective, UPF testing must demonstrated that the fabric blocks at least 93% of the UV radiation.




UPF 15 – UPF 20


93.3% - 95.9%

UPF 25 – UPF 40

Very Good

96.0% - 97.4%

UPF 50, UPF 50+


97.5% or more


What Makes a Material UV Protective

Some fabrics are treated with UV inhibiting ingredients, but most fabrics' structure itself prevents UV rays to pass through, such as the fibers, weaving pattern, thread count, color, thickness and elasticity. The style of the hat and apparel will also affect its sun protection, as a hat and clothing will only protect where it shades and/or cover.  

Without getting into boring details, we listed a few factors that will enhance or diminish a fabric's sun protective properties. Consider these factors while establishing a sun protection regimen:

  • Dense fabrics, tightly woven, thicker fabrics block more UV radiation.
  • Dark and bright colors provide better UV protection due to higher concentration of dyes that prevents UV rays to reach the skin. 
  • Laundry additives, such as optical brightening agent (OBA) in detergent can boost UV protection. 
  • Polyester and nylon contain particles that absorbs UV rays even when wet.
  • Bleached cotton and linen rate low for UV blocking unless otherwise treated, dyed or blended with other materials. 
  • Faded, stretched materials and wet fabrics could lose up to 50% of its sun protection
  • Loosely knit, crocheted materials of any kind provide little or no sun protection.
  • This rule of thumb “If you can see through the hat, it does not provide UV protection” gives a good estimate with straw hats, can be misleading with new lightweight performance fabrics treated with UV blocking agents.

The heavier, thicker and darker fabrics provide better sun protection, but they also tend to be too hot to wear during high temperature and humid days. So, you will need to make some adjustments to not just purchase but wear your sun protective hat and clothing. Choose lighter weight, thinner fabrics, in lighter but bright colors, materials that are enhanced by UV blocking treatment, like Solarweave®, natural materials, such as cotton with a polyester or nylon blend. Moisture wicking and quick drying fabrics will also provide more cooling comfort. Most importantly choose apparel styles that cover more of your body, long sleeves, maxi skirts, hats with wider brims, hats with neck cover.

Wearing a UPF Hat is Necessary to Achieve the Best Sun Protection 

Hats provide the best sun protection for the face, ears, scalp and the back of the neck. Hats protect where applying sunscreen is often forgotten, such as the scalp, hairline, tip of the ears. Sunburns happen wherever UV rays go, which we already know, they are everywhere. Although skin cancer on the scalp is not as common as skin cancer elsewhere, but it is also more difficult to detect when it happens. Sunburn on the scalp mostly just make it itchy, but repeated sunburns can lead to hair loss. The most efficient way to protect your head is to wear a hat, but not just any hat.

Skin Cancer Foundation Recommendation for Hats

The Skin Cancer Foundation provides a secondary approval for sun protective clothing and hats. Hats must have a minimum of UPF 30 rating and 3" wide brim to receive the approval. 

UV Index and Sun Protection Scale

The National Weather Service publishes the strength of UV rays by assigning a number between 0-15. To achieving the best sun protection, wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and sun hats are recommended even when UV index is under 6 and presents low to moderate risk.


Choosing the Perfect Sun Hat

Choosing a sun protective hat that you will love and wear, involves some trade-offs that you need to consider. As we reviewed earlier, the heavier, darker materials provide excellent sun protection, but a black wide brim wool felt hat would be difficult to wear on 102 degrees days, and if you end up using it as a fan because you just can't keep it on it provides zero sun protection.

If you are comfortable wearing a hat, you just need to find a hat tested, rated and labeled for UPF sun protection. Select your preferred style, color and any special features that you need for your activities, such as a neck cape or chin strap for hiking. Go big! Wide brim floppy beach hats, large brim safari or lifeguard hats will provide coverage for your shoulders too. Using the chart above, now you know the trade-offs you are making when choosing a lesser UPF rated sun protection hat, such as a UPF 40 or UPF 30.

On the other hand, if you can't stand wearing a hat because it makes you overheated, sweaty, uncomfortable, you think you look funny in them, hate hat hair, or just hate hats, consider that it is better to wear a hat that provides lesser sun protection, than to own the best sun protection hat that stays in your closet.


What to Consider When Choosing a Sun Protection Hat You Will Love

The goal is for the hat to give the most protection against the sun. Keeping in mind a hat will only protect you from UV rays where it shades you, the primary focus is on brim size, brim shape, brim angle. The ideal sun protection hat has an at least 3" wide downward brim to protect your whole face, ears and back of the neck. Now, let's look at hat styles that provide less than perfect coverage, and where they shade you and protect you, and where they lack sun protection. 

A medium 2-3” wide all-around brim hat will shade the ears, nose and cheek, but lips, chin and most of the neck is left exposed. Small 1-2” wide brim hats only protect your eyes, scalp and maybe the tip of the ears. Ball caps generally have a wide enough bill, 3", but due to the narrowness and curve of the bill, they only protect the eyes, scalp, part the nose and cheek, leaving ears, chin, lips, tip of the nose exposed.

Sun visor hats leave your scalp exposed, otherwise most of them offer similar protection to ball caps. Extra wide, 4+ inch sun visors with rounder bills can provide good sun protection for the whole face and tip of the ears. All-around sun visor hats, crownless open crown hats, wrap around visors provide excellent sun protection for the face, ears and neck while leaving the scalp exposed.     

Sun Hats for Hot Heads

People who do not like wearing hats, often state that they feel overheated in hats. Hats with air vents, full or part mesh crowns, vented weaving straw hats will allow airflow. The mesh area will not provide full sun protection, but if the breeze will allow you keep the hat on your head, it is a great trade-off. Apply scalp sunscreen under the hat if you are bold or have very thin hair.

Another great alternative is a soaker hat. These hats are made of a special microfiber material that retains water, and the slow evaporation provides a cooling effect. A variety of soaker hat styles and colors are available.

Heavy hats also feel hot. Look for lightweight fabric or natural straw hats as alternatives. Hats with moisture wicking sweatband, like CoolMax® will help keep you cooler.

Sun Hats for Big Heads

Often the simple reason people feel overheated and sweaty in a hat is that the hat is too small. This is often an issue with women because most women's hats are one size fits most. If you are unable to stick one finger inside the hat, it is likely too small. So, before you give up on wearing a hat, try a larger size. Large and extra-large size women's hats are harder to find, but nonetheless available. Many men's hats styles also look great on women, and men’s hats come in sizes and available up to 3XL hat sizes.

Sun Hats for Small Heads

As we are talking about hat sizes, some women find one size fits most hats just too big. Small size women's hats are also harder to find. But not impossible, women's hats also come in petite, extra-small sizes, so you can have a stylish sun protection hat that does not drown you. Men’s hats are also available in small sizes. 

Sun Hat Colors Matter

If you think you are just not a hat person, pay attention to the color of the hat. It is particularly important for a look-good, feel-good aspect. In our experience, color more often makes the difference between "I told you I don't look good in hats" and "yeah, I kind of like this one" than the style of the hat. Do not look for a color that will match most of your outfits, look for one that best suits your complexion. Even though we mentioned darker and bright colors provide better sun protection than light and pale colors, the color of a hat is not as important to consider for sun protection, but essential for loving the hat. 

Sun Hats with Attitude

Another little trick to make the hat more becoming is to adjust the tilt front to back or sideways. This will give a little attitude, personal touch of style and importantly will complement the shape of the face. Though within a limit, too much back tilting can eliminate the shade coverage the hat would otherwise provide.

Baseball Cap or No Hat. Period

For those who will not for the life of them put on anything but a ball cap because they think they look funny in any other hat, for the love of sun protection, talk to a smart and honest hatter who will likely agree with you seeing you in the first hat you try, until a befitting hat is found to your greatest surprise. If you do not trust anyone, and it comes to a ball cap or nothing, then try a cap with a longer and wider bill, possibly with a fold-away neck cape or detachable neck cover. 

Bottom line, you know best which hat style you can keep on your head, but you must keep in mind the sun protection deficiencies of the hat style, and layer on the sunscreen where it lacks coverage, because vanity does not provide any sun protection. 

A Few More Sun Protection Hat Tips 

  • sun protective hats and clothing only protect where they shade
  • less protection is better than no protection 
  • tilting the hat back will lessen the protection for your face
  • looking through the hat may not tell you the protection it provides
  • if you have long hair and wear a sun visor or crownless hat, put your hair in a bun instead of a ponytail for a little added protection
  • pay attention to the direction of the sun, if you are walking toward it, pull in your hat, if you are walking away from it tilt your hat back to provide better coverage for the back of your neck. Shapeable, wire edge brim hats provide great flexibility to adjust coverage
  • do not give up, keep trying on hats until you find a great fitting stylish hat

I guarantee you there is a hat out there for you that will make you feel good and look great.


Summary topics of our discussion: UV rated hats, Large brim beach sun hats, Wide brim women's hats, Hats with neck cape, Detachable Neck Flap Caps, XL hats, Extra-large size women's hats, 3XL men's hats, Hats for small heads, Small size women's hats, Large brim visor hats, Wide and round brim sun visors, Wrap around sun visors, Soaker hats, Vented mesh crown hats, Open weaved crown hats, Shapeable wire edge brim hats, Crownless visor hats, Raffia hats, Ball caps, Medium brim hats, UPF 50+ hats, Color of a hatBreezer hats, Wide brim hats for men, safari hats, organic and natural straw hats, cotton and linen hats, women's sun visors, men's visors, downward brim hats, women's summer hats, men's summer hats, small brim hats,


Read part 1: How to Establish an Effective Sun Protection Routine


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