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How to Choose a Rash Guard

Rash guards come in various styles, thicknesses, and fabrics depending on their purpose. Rash guards are used for a number of ocean sports, but the most popular is surfing. This brief guide covers the different types of rash guards and how to choose one specific to your needs.

What is a Rash Guard?

  • The primary purpose of a rash guard is to provide warmth, sun protection, and rash protection.
  • They can be worn under a wetsuit for rash protection and additional warmth, or by themselves (without a wetsuit) in warmer weather.
  • They are also used with modest swimwear and as additional top coverage.
  • Most are made of spandex, nylon, polyester, or neoprene.
  • Every rash guard provides at least some UV protection (even if not specifically stated).

Thermal Rash Guards

Thermal rash guards provide some extra warmth in cold water. Choose a thermal rash guard when you're planning on being in chilly water for an extended period of time.

  • Thermal rash guards are commonly used for aqua aerobics and ocean sports (in water that is too warm for a wetsuit, but too cold for bare skin).
  • Aside from the word "thermal," look for "thermo" in the title of the product. These terms means that it is made of thick, insulating fabric.
  • Thermal means the rash guard is made for warmth.
  • Neoprene is the most common fabric used for warmth.
  • The "mm" designates the thickness of the material in millimeters. Choose a higher thickness for extra warmth. If there are two numbers, such as 3/2mm, the first number refers to the thickness in the torso and the second refers to the thickness in the sides and/or limbs.

Rash Guards for General Sun Protection

Choose a general purpose rash guard for sun protection or surfing. While surfing, the rash guard can be worn alone (to protect skin from a surfboard rash), or under a wetsuit (to protect skin from wetsuit irritation). Some information on rash guards in general:

  • Regular rash guards are lightweight and are made to fit tight/snug. If you want a looser fitting rash guard, purchase a size up, or just get a surf shirt (outlined below).
  • General rash guard styles come in both short sleeve and long sleeve cuts.
  • The short sleeve designs provide more freedom of movement, while the long sleeve designs provide additional support and protection.
  • Boardshort connectors attach the rash guard to shorts to prevent it from riding up.

Surf Tees & Shirts

Surf tees and surf shirts are used primarily for sun protection. These are very lightweight, and unlike regular rash guards, are loose fitting. Surf tees should be worn as a regular shirt; they are too loose for surfing.

Rash Guard Vests

Choose a vest for additional warmth in ocean sports. These can be used alone, or under a wetsuit. The lack of sleeves provides more mobility in the shoulders, which has obvious advantages for any athletic activity.

Vests add an extra layer of warmth for the core (but not enough warm for cold-water use). Materials dictate the best use for an individual vest:

  • LYCRA™ vests are similar to general rash guards (but obviously without sleeves).
  • If the rash guard vest is made for thermoregulation (warmth) it will have an "mm" in the title.

Full-body Rash Guards

Full-body rash guards are made of the same materials and have the same fit as a rash guard, but have the cut of a full-body wetsuit. They are used for a number of ocean sports, either alone or under a wetsuit. Sports that commonly use full-body rash guards are: Canoeing, kayaking, wake boarding, water skiing, windsurfing, kite surfing, and surfing. The downside of these suits is that they can sometimes restrict freedom of movement.

Many Rash Guards, Many Uses

There are different rash guards with cuts specifically for men, women, and children. Children's rash guard sets are commonly used for sun protection, and are called "sun suits." Men's and women's rash guards are often used for water aerobics and ocean sports. So whether your need is warmth, sun protection, rash protection, or sport specific, you shouldn't have a problem finding a rash guard that is perfect for your needs.

Shop all Men's Rashguards

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Clare O Toole
2 months ago.
Does a thermal rash vest provide protection when sea swimming in 50-55 degree water?
2 months ago.
Hi Clare!

That will depend on the thickness. You might want to check our article about wetsuits for more information:
7 months ago.
Does the color of a rash guard affect its sun protection ability? I'd like to buy a white shirt but as white turns transparent when wet I was wondering if the rash guard would still provide SPF. Thanks!
6 months ago.
Hi Jenna,

The color of the rash guard should not effect the SPF. If the fabric is SPF rated then you will still have your protection.
Akemi Land
7 months ago.
Hey there! I was curious what a size 4 rash guard is equivalent to. Is it similar to an x-small/ small? Thank you!
7 months ago.
Hello! A size 4 is typically equivalent to a size Small.
8 months ago.
I’m looking for sun protection to swim competitively in a chlorinated pool, which doesn’t drag. Any rash guard suggestions?
8 months ago.
Hi Jeff! The following link has the Men's Tight Fit Rash Guards we carry
1 year ago.
I'm looking for rash-guard long pants to use along with a rash guard top.
1 year ago.
We do not have any rash guard long pants. Though, you might want to check our boardshorts list:
1 year ago.
hi i got rashes on my neck when i swim on the beach especialy for 1hr and 30 minutes what kind of rash guard should i buy
1 year ago.
Hi Oliver,

We suggest getting a UPF 50+ rash guard with neck coverage, please see product codes: 8173148, 8139866, 8139867, 35369, 35368.
1 year ago.
I just ordered a rash guard for swimming but didn’t even think about chlorine!! Will there be a problem when swimming in chlorinated pools??
1 year ago.
Hi Ashlynn,

SwimOutlet would recommend you to check pool regulations and also to check the percentage of chlorine or chemicals in pools as this can affect the quality of the fabric as well as the performance of the rashguards in pools. We'd highly recommend to wash them with cold water after use.
Jennifer Carole
1 year ago.
I have very large arms (genetic defect if you ask me). I need room in the sleeve. I used to get them from a company in San Diego but I've lost the information. I use in water aerobics because top half of me is often out of the water. Suggestions?
1 year ago.
Hi Jennifer,

Since you need room in the sleeve we would recommend purchasing a loose fit rashguard or possibly a Men's size Rashguard. The athletic fit even when sizing up are going to tight and form fitting and may not work well.
nikki lamar
1 year ago.
hey there. im a 163 pound female who just took up surfing for a hobby. im not fat just in the stomach area. which rash guard would you recommend. i want it to conceal some of my tummy too somewhat.
1 year ago.
Hi Nikki!

There are no rashguards that offer tummy control. We would suggest a high waist swim briefs instead.
Ray K
2 years ago.
I'm 5'10", 180 lbs. and looking for UV and perhaps some jellyfish protection while snorkeling. I am thinking I want a light weight, full body suit, with long sleeves and legs. Purchase will likely be used for several days over a one week period. Any ideas and sizing suggestion appreciated.
2 years ago.
Since we don't sell full suit rashguards, we recommend this Mares Men's Coral Wetsuit which is suitable for you. Based on your measurements, we recommend Large. To view the item, click the link below.
2 years ago.
Can someone point me in the direction of a couple good options for really lightweight rash guards both short- and long- sleeve. I am in need of sun protection but don’t have great luck with ones that are lightweight enough to not feel bogged down.
2 years ago.
Hi SG!

We have lightweight rashguards from Dakine. Please use the links below.

2 years ago.
I am planning on getting some rash guards for an upcoming trip where I plan to be swimming for a good amount of time in the open ocean, Do the tight fitting rash guards tend to restrict shoulder movement?
2 years ago.
Hello Austin,
No, you should still have full range of motion if correctly sized.
2 years ago.
Hey, I work construction in hot weather and sun and need an alternative to constant application of sunscreen. Would a rash guard with high spf protection serve the purpose?
2 years ago.
Hello Lane,
Yes, the rash guard will definitely help with sun protection.
phlypp Parks
2 years ago.
Rash guards are made to be worn in water so are tight and don't breath. You'll be extremely hot in one. You should be looking for loose fitting performance long sleeve shirts. They're usually all synthetic, SPF of 50 is common, the fibers have channels to wick sweat to the outside to evaporate and the flowing nature keeps you cooler like Arab clothing, It's what I use to play outdoor tennis in.
3 years ago.
Hi! I'm a plus sized woman and would like to wear a rash guard shirt while working out in the pool. What kind of swim top should I wear underneath the rash guard shirt? Or do the rashguard shirts have lift coverage for a woman's chest? Thanks.
3 years ago.
Hello Marisa!
No, the rash guards offer no chest support. You would want to wear a bikini top or some sort of top with support underneath of the rash guard.
3 years ago.
I need serious sun protection and I am always cold. I do aerobics and swim in an outdoor chlorinated pool . I need a top and a bottom piece in size to fit a petite woman. What do you suggest? Thanks.
3 years ago.
Hello Emily,
You can view all of our thermal rash guard options at this link:
Just make sure to follow the sizing chart for each individual items to make sure you get the right fit. These tops and bottoms will keep you warmer in the water.
3 years ago.
My husband and I like to ride jet skies when we cruise but the vests they make us wear gross us out. We were thinking of getting rashguards to wear under them. Any suggestions?
3 years ago.
Hi Tracy,
That's a great idea! The rashguards will also keep your protected from the sun. Depending on which style you'd like to go with, we do offer both short sleeve and long sleeve rashguards. There are two main fits, too; Tight Fit (or Sport Fit) and Loose Fit rashguards. If you're just looking to put a layer between you and the vests, I recommend a tight fit, short sleeve rashguard. Long sleeves are more for sun protection and/or warmth.
3 years ago.
Excellent!! thanks for the responding :-)
3 years ago.
Last July I went on a cruise and swam around int eh water on two consecutive days and even though I put sun screen on a few times, I had a terrible rash on my legs and arms called Urticaria. My husband has booked another Caribbean cruise this September, and I hope to find a long sleeved and long legged rash-guard that looks like I'm surfing (ha). It will be used in hot weather again, so I need it lightweight. I don't know if I can find one that is cool-looking and in my size XL. Can you recommend something?
3 years ago.
Hi Karen! We carry a wide range of long sleeve rash guards but our most popular one is Carve Designs Women's Cruz L/S Rashguard. You can pair it with the Sporti Swim Leggings as well. Both items are lightweight and would be great for sun protection.
3 years ago.

I want to buy a rash guard for long distance swimming in the sea. I don`t need it to be a thermal one, but i need the UV protection. I`m thinking about to order a performance fit, but wouldn`t it restrict movement? Also do you think a white one with U.P.F. 50+ sign would have enough protection or should i choose blue or red colour? (I just don`t want it to be too warm in the summer, because it`s a darker colour.)

Thanks in advance!
3 years ago.
Hello Gabe!
The rash guards won't restrict movement they're very flexible. I'd suggest going for the lighter colors the white should work well. You'll still have the same amount of sun protection. Hope this helps!
3 years ago.
What is the warmest rashguard suitable for chlorine pools, since thermal ones do not hold up in chlorine?
3 years ago.
Hi Mary!
The EQ Swimwear Glitch L/S Rashguard is very fast drying, protects against cold water and is chlorine resistant. You can view this at the following link:
4 years ago.
I swim in indoor and outdoor chlorinated pools. Can you recommend something to keep me warm that will stand up to chlorine?
4 years ago.
Hi David,
The thermal rash guards will provide warmth but will not hold up with in chlorine. We are currently not offering any thermal rash guard that will hold up in chlorine. These are meant to be worn in non-chlorinated water.
4 years ago.
Hurricane Cat 1 Neo Shorts by TYR are approved for use in pools according to the mfr:
Great for training in both the pool and open water, the NEOSM6A includes a Slick Skin Neoprene construction that helps to correct and improve an athlete’s stroke and natural body position on the water. Engineered to create buoyancy, minimize drag and enhance overall hydrodynamic efficiency, the Hurricane Cat 1 Neo Shorts are ideal for triathlon swimmers in the process of transitioning to full wetsuits. Each pair is equipped with an adjustable drawcord at waist, and should be rinsed thoroughly with cold water after every use.
4 years ago.
Wouldn't a loose rashguard always start to come off your body?
4 years ago.
Hi Shaheer,
Yes, a loose rashguard can easily rise up when in the water so a fitted rashguard works best in this case. Some rashguards do offer a Boardshort connector loop to prevent this from happening. This will be mentioned in the product details for the item you are viewing.
4 years ago.
Can you suggest a color to best be worn to prevent sunburn
4 years ago.
Hi Stretch,
Blue and red are the colors that are more likely to block the sun's UV rays. I hope this helps!
Dean Feldmeyer
4 years ago.
I'm 65 years old, 6'4" and 240 pounds. I have been through three battles with skin cancer but I still want to be able to go to the beach with my grandchildren. I don't do a lot of swimming but want to be able to get in and out of the pool/surf with the kids. What kind of shirt do you recommend?
4 years ago.
Hi Dean,
I recommend the Sporti Men's L/S Sport Fit Rashguard if you will need both sun protection and warmth. The sizing on this rashguard tends to run small, so we suggest sizing up from your regular size. Also, I recommend the Body Glove Men's Loose Fit Short Sleeve Rashguard if you don't necessarily need the warmth, but will still receive sun protection. This rashguard will be true to size. I hope this helps!
Mark Borgers
8 years ago.
A rash guard used with a wetsuit needs to have a tall neck similar to a turtle neck shirt. The point of a rash guard is to avoid a rash around the neck from the wetsuit. Many do not have this feature and do not fall into the wetsuit rash guard category.
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