If you spend time in the water, you'd likely benefit from investing in a rash guard. Rash guards are designed to keep you comfortable and protected from the elements during activities like surfing, swimming, and paddle boarding. Much lighter than a wetsuit (and typically sportier than a tankini), they're typically made of flexible, fast-drying material, like spandex or polyester. They're lightweight but extremely durable, made explicitly to fend off the sun and salt. Especially at the beach, where the sun is high and constantly reflecting off water and sand, wearing a rash guard on your torso can make a huge difference on sensitive summer skin.
But before you go running out to buy one, take a beat—there's a few key elements to keep in mind when it comes to rash guard design.
What to look for in a rash guard
First is fit: the overall style and silhouette of your rash guard will make a difference depending on the water activities you participate in. If you're a surfer or avid boogie boarder, aim for something a little tighter to prevent chafing between the fabric, your board, and your stomach. For paddlers or recreational swimmers, a looser style might be more comfortable.
Second is SPF, or in the case of rash guards, UPF. UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, is the standard unit of measure for how well fabric blocks out UVA and UVB rays. If you're shopping for a rash guard, aim for a shirt that's made with UPF 50 or above. According to the American Skin Cancer Foundation, these block 98 percent of the sun's rays, and will keep you most protected from as you swim or surf.
Finally, consider your lifestyle: Will a crew neck rash guard suffice? Or, do you need something a little more protective with additional features, like a zipper or a hood? Is this an investment you're going to wear from season-to-season? Or is it something you're purchasing as a one-off for your next vacay?
The best rash guards for long-lasting protection against the sun and surf
Whether you're an olympic-level surfer or the occasional weekend paddler, there's a rash guard for you. Below are the 12 best rash guards for the lake, beach, and beyond. (Editor's note: While we've included the best picks for women and men, this definitely doesn't mean you shouldn't buy what is best for you, and what you like, regardless of how you identify—we're merely answering commonly searched terms in Google.)
Best rash guards for women
As one of the very first brands to breakout in the wetsuit development game, O’Neill is a legend in surf and swimwear. This lightweight women’s rash guard is perfect for low-intensity water sports, like snorkeling, paddle boarding, and swimming. Constructed of a polyester/spandex blend, it features UPF+ 50 for protection against the sun and minimal seaming for less chafing.
If you’re looking for all the protection of a rash guard without the restrictive, “second skin” feeling, check out this zip-up long sleeve by Roxy. Constructed of recycled lycra, it’s chlorine and UV resistant with UPF 50. Unlike other crew neck shirts, it features a zipper for convenience, so once you’re done, there’s no pulling or yanking to try and get it off.
Billabong’s relaxed rash guard is another great option for people who want to avoid the too-tight feeling normal rash guards can give. As its name suggests, Billabong’s model features tight arms, but a loose core, to give wearer’s a comfy, T-shirt-like feel. While it is a bit looser, it still offers the sun and skin protection you want for long days on the water.
Kanu Surf’s short sleeve rash guard has over 1,900 5-star reviews on Amazon for its breathable, yet durable, design. It’s available in an array of inclusive sizes, well as a variety of beach-y tie-dye prints ranging in classic neutrals to bright, summery neons.
Keep your shoulders and chest covered but your arms free with this short-sleeve Body Glove rash guard. It has UPF 50+ protection, is lightweight and quick-dry, and has a stretchy fit.
Best rash guards for men
Quiksilver’s long sleeve rash guard is loose-fitting, perfect for those who like a relaxed feel when they’re in the water. Armed with UPF 50, it’s great for wearing alone on hot sunny days or layering with wetsuits. And it’s made with recycled materials.
For those who want a little more freedom in their arms, check out O’Neill’s short sleeve rash guard. It features all the same, high-quality designs as the long sleeve—UPF 50, minimal stitching, great durability—just with short sleeves, instead.
RVCA’s fitted long sleeve model stays comfortable while getting the job done. It’s stylish and minimalistic, featuring a standard crew cut that’s available in two trendy camouflage prints. It’s also eco-friendly, made of repurposed materials as part of RVCA’s Re:Purpose recycling program.
Score this top-rated rash guard for $20 on Amazon. Unlike the other designs, Kanu Surf’s short sleeve rash guard is a bit less fitted, allowing for flexibility and breathability without compromising skin protection. It’s available in a range of sizes and color combinations.
Best rash guards for surfing
For a little more protection in the waves, check out Roxy’s Long Sleeve One Piece Swimsuit. Rather than slipping on a separate rash guard over your bikini, step into this one-piece for all day protection against sun, salt, and sand. Plus, it’s designed from recycled polyester that’s made from plastic bottles, so you’ll feel as good as you look.
Body Glove also has a high-quality one-piece option ideal for surfing, wake boarding, paddling, and more. It features a front zip that’s easy to slip on and off, long sleeves, and a fitted silhouette made for gliding through the water. Available in a wide range of colors that won’t get lost in a sea of black.
For stronger protection against the elements, elevate your rash guard game with this hooded model by O’Neill. A step up from the other crew styles, this style features strategic seam placement, 4-way stretch, and a utility pocket on the back for hands-free storage. Available in grey or black.
For the surfing fashionista, Billabong’s fun, beachy rash guard suit combines style with utility. Like all the other designs, it promises long-lasting sun protection with UPF. However, it does sport a cut-out back, so if you’re going to be in the surf for a while, make sure to double-up on the sunscreen where your skin is exposed.
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