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What is Rash Guard?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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A rash guard, or rashguard, is a lightweight athletic shirt made from a material like nylon or polyester, engineered to have excellent wicking ability. It protects the skin from a variety of sporting related hazards, from chafing to sunburn. In addition to being practical, these shirts have also become a style statement in some parts of the world, especially around surfing communities, where they may be worn as a casual shirt in addition to a piece of sporting equipment.

One of the major advantages of a rash guard is that the lightweight design allows it to be worn even in very warm weather conditions. Many people like to use garments with built-in SPF protection in the tropics to prevent sunburn and keep their skin cool while they surf, snorkle, or swim. They can also be worn for land sports like tennis, and they may also be worn under other garments.

Classically, rash guards are worn under a wetsuit to prevent chafing. Prolonged periods of time in a wet suit can cause skin problems, especially in salt water around areas where the suit is bent, like the knees and elbows, with the wrinkled parts of the suit chafing and irritating the skin, but wearing a rash guard can prevent this. It also offers extra insulation for people using a wetsuit in very cold water.

In warm climates, surfers sometimes wear a rash guard alone without a wetsuit, using it for protection from the elements without the bulk and discomfort of a wetsuit. You can also see these garments used in some martial arts, protecting people from chafing and reducing the amount of time that sweat stays near the skin by wicking it away.

Rash guards come in a variety of sizes and styles, and they do not need to be closely and perfectly fitted to be fully functional. You can find sleeveless versions along with those with sleeves of varying lengths at many sporting supply stores, especially those which cater to surfers, and they come in child and adult sizes. If sunburn is a concern, check to be sure that the product comes with an SPF rating, indicating that it has been tested and approved for UV-protection.

Sports&Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports&Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By serenesurface — On Jul 01, 2012

I'm a hiker and we had a new hiker join our group recently. He doesn't have a rash guard and didn't see the point of getting one because it's expensive. After I explained to him why it's necessary, he's finally convinced.

Rash guards can cost a lot, but in some sports, you need it and hiking is one of them. The reason is because a rash guard doesn't allow sweat to remain on your body. Some people might not get why sweat is a problem, but it is because it cools the body. It can even lead to hypothermia in some cooler environments.

A rash guard absorbs the sweat and allows it to evaporate so you don't feel wet and your skin is in fact dry. You can maintain a constant body temperature this way. Of course, it also protects against rashes. That's why I think a rash guard is worth every penny for people who regularly engage in sports.

By candyquilt — On Jun 30, 2012

@turquoise-- I think you should go for a rash guard with SPF 50 and made of spandex if you're planning to use it in very hot weather. Long-sleeved rash guard shirts with SPF 50 should be enough to protect you from the sun.

If you however want something that provides a little bit of insulation, look for a mixture of spandex and synthetic rubber (neoprene). This will be good if you're going to be facing wind, which I suspect you will while sailing. It'll also be good if you're planning on being in water.

Any rash guard made of spandex, lycra or nylon will absorb sweat quite well.

By turquoise — On Jun 29, 2012

What kind of a men's rash guard is best to use for sailing in hot weather?

I'll be sailing next month in Hawaii and I need something to protect me from getting sun-burnt. I have white, sensitive skin and a bad sun burn will surely end my vacation early. I think I better purchase a rash guard before I head out there. I know to look out for one that has a high SPF, but what else do I need to look for?

My other concern aside from getting sun-burnt is sweating. It's going to be pretty hot and if the rash guard keeps me too warm, I'll end up just taking it off which won't be good. Do rash guards really absorb sweat well? What kind of material should a sweat-absorbing rash guard be made of?

By anon90984 — On Jun 19, 2010

I wear a bathing suit top. A bikini works best but can wear a full one-piece or tankini too, depending on how tight-fitting the rashguard is.

By anon32465 — On May 21, 2009

What should a female wear under a rash guard?

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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