How To Buy a Rash Guard

You want to return from a surf ses­sion with sto­ries and a tan not chaf­ing and rash. That’s where rash guards come in. Rash guards help pro­tect pre­cious parts like nip­ples, armpits, and your neck from get­ting rubbed raw by a com­bi­na­tion of salt water, move­ment, and surf­board. Rash guards can be worn under­neath wet and dry suits or on their own as a top and bot­tom set. A lot of them offer sun pro­tec­tion with built-in UPF.

Read­ing as much as you can about the top­ics in this guide will help you learn how to choose the best rash guard for your style.

UPF: One of the main ben­e­fits of a rash guard is sun pro­tec­tion. Pro­tec­tion from harm­ful UV rays—both direct­ly from the sun and reflect­ed by the water—is nec­es­sary if you’re going to spend the day at your favorite break. Most rash guards built to block UV rays fea­ture at least UPF 50 for sun pro­tec­tion.


Mate­r­i­al: Rash guards are typ­i­cal­ly com­posed of a syn­thet­ic blend of fibers, but main­ly fea­ture Lycra, neo­prene, poly­ester or a nylon-span­dex blend. While each offer dif­fer­ent lev­els of stretch, warmth, and breatha­bil­i­ty, the final deci­sion should boil down to what mate­r­i­al you find most com­fort­able.

Lycra: Breath­able with opti­mal stretch, a Lycra rash guard will pre­vent chaf­ing and dry quick­ly.

Neo­prene: Some rash guards also insu­late the body in cool­er waters, which is where the neo­prene comes in to pro­vide both insu­la­tion and stretch for flex­i­bil­i­ty of move­ment.

Poly­ester: Poly­ester rash guards offer max­i­mum breatha­bil­i­ty and sweat wick­ing, but lack the same stretch and flex­i­bil­i­ty of those com­posed of a lycra blend.

Nylon-Span­dex: With a nylon-span­dex rash guard, a surfer will get stretch, a tight fit, breatha­bil­i­ty, and a quick dry­ing.


Fit: Rash guards are sup­posed to fit tight to the body to keep chaf­ing or uncom­fort­able rub­bing at a min­i­mum. How­ev­er, some styles are made to fit a lit­tle loos­er to be more for­giv­ing to the body-image con­scious.

Stitch­ing: Most rash guards fea­ture flat-lock stitch­ing and a six-pan­el con­struc­tion for the best fit, and thus ulti­mate rash and chaf­ing pre­ven­tion.

Sleeve Length: Rash guards are avail­able in tanks, short sleeves and long sleeves. Each style has its own uses.

Tanks: Tanks are great for hot and sun­ny days when over-heat­ing can be an issue. Going sleeve­less means lots of flex­i­bil­i­ty and a greater range of movement—plus no farmer’s tan.

Short Sleeves: Also great for hot days, short sleeve rash guards are opti­mal for beat­ing the heat and for pro­tec­tion from the sun’s rays.

Long Sleeves: Long sleeve rash guards are best for pro­tec­tion against cool­er tem­per­a­tures, as they’ll keep the surfer insu­lat­ed and warm, while also pro­vid­ing UV pro­tec­tion.


Style/Art: There are two ways of putting designs and art­work onto a rash guard: sub­li­ma­tion and heat trans­fer.

Sub­li­ma­tion: Rash guards with sub­li­ma­tion art­work are typ­i­cal­ly more expen­sive than those with heat trans­fer art­work, since the process of sub­li­mat­ing a graph­ic is much more tedious and expen­sive. Sub­li­ma­tion means the art actu­al­ly becomes a part of the rash guard, so it will nev­er fade or crack.

Heat Trans­fer: Less expen­sive and a lot eas­i­er than sub­li­ma­tion, heat trans­fer is more or less like an iron-on graph­ic. The down­side: the art­work doesn’t last as long and they crack, peel, and fade over time.

Shorts: Rash guard shorts can be worn in place of a wet suit or swim shorts to help with chaf­ing and rash pre­ven­tion on the low­er half of the body. They have a com­pressed, snug fit, keep­ing every­thing tight to the body, with­out sac­ri­fic­ing move­ment and flex­i­bil­i­ty. They also fea­ture SPF pro­tec­tion.