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Experts share why you may want a rash guard for extra sun protection this summer

Help protect your skin while having some fun in the sun.
Smiling surfer in wetsuit holding a surfboard on the beach
pixelfit / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

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If you take water sports pretty seriously, you've probably worn a rash guard before. For ages, the water-friendly style has primarily been associated with surfing, wakeboarding and other thrill-seeking activities, but it's actually a beach staple that everyone can benefit from.

Not sure what all the fuss is about? The Shop TODAY team asked a few experts to weigh in on what makes rash guards so appealing and offer some tips for finding the best one. Plus, we're rounding up 12 options for every budget!

What is a rash guard?

You'd think the name "rash guard" would imply that the garment helps prevent rashes, but that's not really the case.

"The term rash guard is a bit of a misnomer. Rather than truly preventing rashes, these shirts can help prevent sunburns," Mount Sinai Hospital's Director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology Joshua Zeichner told us. "Heat rashes develop when your sweat glands go into overdrive and sweat becomes trapped within the pores themselves. Unfortunately, rash guards don’t really prevent heat rashes."

Rash guards are particularly versatile, though, and can help your skin in many ways.

"Made of spandex, nylon or polyester, rash guards not only protect your skin from sunburn, chafing and scrapes, but they keep you cool," Rakuten Retail & Shopping Expert Kristen Gall told us.

The sun protection that rash guards provide is of particular importance if you're looking to avoid sunburns or slow down the aging process.

"Rash guards provide physical protection against the sun, and can actually do an even better job than sunscreen in some cases. Sunscreen only works if you are using it the right way," Zeichner explained.

Since sunscreen can wash off after you've been in the water a while, you need to keep reapplying it all day long. But a rash guard with built-in sun protection can save you the hassle of slathering on SPF over and over again.

How to shop for a high-quality rash guard

If you're considering adding a rash guard to your summer wardrobe, there are a few things to keep in mind before buying one. For starters, both Zeichner and Gall agreed that UPF styles are best.

"Many great rash guards have an ultraviolet protection factor (or UPF), which is most important to consider. Like sunscreen, a rash guard shirt that is most protective will have a higher UPF, so aim for one that is above 50 if possible," Gall revealed.

Take a close look at the garment's tag to make sure it actually has UPF protection, though.

"This means it has been evaluated and shown to prevent UV rays from penetrating through. Thin fabrics or those with a loose weave do a poor job of protecting you from the sun," Zeichner told us. "As a quick check, hold the fabric up to the sun. If you see light penetrating through, it means it will not do a good job of protecting your skin from the sun."

When shopping for a high-quality rash guard, you should also consider the way it fits to make sure it's comfortable and practical for the activity you're planning.

"If you are wearing it for swimming or surfing, you want it to be tighter but for hiking, running or exercising, it should fit a bit more loosely," Gall said.

Women's rash guards to shop

Daci 2-Piece Rash Guard with Bottom UPF 50

With over 3,500 five-star ratings under its belt, this Amazon bestseller comes well recommended from users who describe it as "chic," "stretchy" and "comfortable." The zipper closure design comes in 35 colors and prints, and has a built-in bra for extra support. The UPF 50+ material is also quick-drying and breathable.

Venus Relaxed Fit Rash Guard

Whether you're swimming or surfing, this relaxed fit rash guard will shield your skin from sand and salt water like a pro. Available in two colors and sizes up to 2X, the long-sleeve style has a UPF 50+ rating and is available in a matching swim bottom.

All in Motion Tie-Front Cropped Rash Guard

If you typically wear a bikini, getting used to the additional coverage a rash guard provides can take some time, but this cropped style is a great way to wade into the trend. The gorgeous green top has a lightweight ribbed material and a tie-front waist, and it offers UPF 50+ protection.

Lands' End Crew Neck Long-Sleeve UPF 50 Rash Guard

Rash guards are most commonly used at the beach, but they're also quite handy for outdoor activities like hiking or gardening, and we could totally see ourselves rocking this colorful option while having some fun in the sun. It's available in several vibrant colors and prints (our fave is called Lemon Lime Mix) and also comes in sizes up to 3X.

Nautica Shoreline Striped Long Sleeve Rash Guard

If you're new to the world of rash guards, you might want to ease in and opt for a budget-friendly option, like this long-sleeve style from Nautica. At only $17, it's an affordable way to decide if you're into the trend, and it also happens to be quite stylish with its striped sleeves and crew neckline.

DSG Melanie Long Sleeve Rash Guard

We've got our eyes on this versatile swimwear staple that offers full coverage with its long sleeves and fitted design. It comes in multiple prints, including colorblock stripes, tie dye and florals. Plus, the price is is an added bonus!

Axesea Long Sleeve Rash Guard UPF 50+ Swimsuit

Did you know that rash guards also come in one pieces? This bestseller has over 3,400 five-star ratings and comes in 24 colors/prints, including plenty of tropical-inspired designs. The UPF 50+ fabric is said to block more than 98 percent of UVA and UVB rays and the one-piece design spares you the trouble of having to find a matching bottom.

Motherhood Maternity Beach Bump Long Sleeve UPF 50+ Swim Top

We've always been fans of showing off your beautiful bump at the beach, but if you're looking for a bit more coverage, a rash guard can keep you and your bundle of joy protected from the sun. Motherhood Maternity's crewneck, long-sleeve style offers UPF 50 protection, a quick-drying fabric, built-in stretch and side ruching for added flair.

Carve Designs Dawson Rash Guard

This short-sleeve rash guard has a lot going for it with its half-zip front, cap sleeves and adjustable side shirring that's meant to flatter your figure. It's available in 10 vibrant colors, so there's plenty to choose from, but we're particularly loving the beautiful blue hue called Ceramic.

L.L. Bean ReNew Swimwear Rash Guard

You'll look stylish and sporty in this L.L. Bean rash guard with a half-zip neckline and a breathable fabric. Available in two colors (a stark white and a beautiful blue), the UPF 50+ material is made of sustainable materials and it's also abrasion-resistant, meaning it's perfect for physical water sports like surfing.

Coolibar Freestyle Short Sleeve Rash Guard UPF 50+

UPF 50+ sun protection that never washes out? Sign us up! This short-sleeve Coolibar rash guard is a great go between if you don't want the full coverage of a long-sleeve top but still want to shield your skin from the sun's rays and the elements. It comes complete with a side zip pocket and an easy on/off quarter zip neckline. Did we mention it's available in sizes up to 3X?

Lively The Zip Rash Guard

You can expect plenty of support from this rash guard since Lively is known for its topnotch undergarments. The UPF 50 fabric is also made of sustainable materials (80 percent recycled nylon, to be specific), which makes it great for you and the environment.

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