A Guide to Rash Guards

Also known as rashies or rash vests, rash guards are tightly-fitted athletic garments specifically designed for athletic wear or water sports. Originally made to prevent chafing or grazing one’s skin against a surfboard, the use of this garment has extended well beyond the boundaries of catching waves. Today, rash guards are worn for a variety of water activities, including but not limited to, scuba diving, snorkeling, bodyboarding, windsurfing, kayaking, and swimming. 

On land, rash guards have become a household name for athletes in the field of baseball, football, and mixed martial arts. In fact, rashies are revered go-to attires in jiu-jitsu as they lessen the risk of cuts, mat burns, and infections.

Benefits of Rash Guards

While typically more pricey than the alternatives, high-quality scuba rash guards are worthy investments that boost your performance in competitive sports and help you enjoy your vacation to the fullest. Here are some of its advantages over regular swimsuits:

Prevents Rashes and Chafing

Wearing a rash guard is an extremely effective way to prevent skin abrasions while engaging in water sports. By covering the most sensitive areas of the body, rashies drastically decrease friction as a result of continuous body movements and rubbing against salt water and aquagear.  Scuba divers normally wear a rash guard inside of their wetsuits because extended periods of time wearing swimwear alone can cause rashes and chafing. 

Thermal Coverage

Rash vests are available in varying thickness to give appropriate thermal coverage. While they cannot truly replace wetsuits when it comes to heat retention, thermal rash guards can be worn underneath to add an extra layer of warmth as you explore cool, deep waters. Once you’re back on the sand, the fast-drying fabric of rash guards will help you warm up much faster. Moreover, the moderate thermal coverage of rash guards is an advantage in itself when weather conditions are too hot to put on a full wetsuit.

Sun Protection

Special UV ray protection rash guards are made from fabrics that could have an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50+. While sunscreen is only as effective as long you apply it, a long sleeve rash guard can protect your upper body completely without leaving room for missed spots. This is especially useful to snorkelers, kayakers, and surfers, who spend extended periods of time with their backs exposed to the sun. 

Ease of Movement

Rash guards are designed using lightweight materials that dry quickly and wrap your body in a snug fit. While wearing one of these, you can move easily while submerged underwater. 


The rash guard is a versatile garment that serves many purposes and can be worn both as an inner layer or outer garment. It comes in a variety of styles to give the most appropriate amount of coverage without impeding movement. You can go for either a long sleeve, short sleeve, or sleeveless rash guard in the fit that best suits the situation.  

Jellyfish Protection

For surfers, snorkelers, and scuba divers who opt not to wear a wetsuit, the rash guard will offer adequate protection from waterborne irritants and jellyfish stings.

How to Choose the Right Rash Guard

father and son wearing long sleeve rash guards

Selecting the best rash guard depends on what sort of activity you’ll be doing while wrapped in the garment.


There are two kinds of rash vests: skin-tight and loose-fit rash guards. Generally, a body-hugging fit is recommended, especially if you intend to use the activewear for water sports. Skin-tight rash guards allow unrestricted movement and eliminate the distracting presence of excess fabric flailing around you. What’s more, loose swimwear equates to higher water resistance, hindering your speed and preventing you from executing underwater maneuvers to the best of your ability. 

That’s not to say, however, that loose-fit rash guards are dismissible. If you’re going to the beach or pool for the sole purpose of leisure and relaxation, such rashies are more than enough to give you your money’s worth. As they are usually more breathable than their snug counterparts, lounging around in these garments is the better option in terms of comfort and practicality. 


Depending on your needs, you can get a rash guard in a specific kind of fabric. 


Lycra is a breathable fabric that offers great flexibility. A lycra rash guard will prevent chafing and dries quickly.


Neoprene rash guards help keep you warm while submerged in chilly waters. The fabric works best as a thermal insulator and is known to maintain its flexibility throughout a wide range of temperatures.


Rashies made out of polyester are breathable and highly effective in wicking out excess moisture from your skin when you sweat. Although very durable, their flexibility and stretch are quite limited, so they are best used when activities do not demand continuous movements. 


A nylon-spandex blend is breathable, stretchable, and form-fitting. Rash guards made from this fabric are also quick-drying.


Look for flatlock stitching, which creates a seam that lies flat to the garment instead of hanging loose from it, providing comfort and strength for active wear and exercise.


Sleeve length is also an important factor when choosing a rash guard. You have three options:

Long Sleeve Rash Guard

a man in a long sleeve UV protection rash guard

Long sleeve rash guards, like the Scubapro UPF 50 Long Sleeve Men’s Rash Guard, go up to your wrists, giving you full coverage. If you’re going to do something that involves a lot of intense movements against scuba gear or salt water, this type of rashie is your best bet to protect your skin. They are also recommended for cool waters that don’t have temperatures low enough to warrant a full wetsuit, as they’d give just the right amount of insulation.

Short Sleeve Rash Guard

a woman in a short sleeve rash guard

Short sleeve rash guards, like the Cressi Black Short Sleeve Rash Guard for Women, will cover your torso and extend only up to your shoulders. Worn alone, they are best suited for light water sports and regular swimming on hot summer days. Rash vests of this fashion are popular among deep-sea explorers as supplementary scuba gear. They also provide extra insulation and add a layer of protection from waterborne irritants.

Sleeveless Rash Guard

a man in a black tank rash guard

Sleeveless rash guards, or tank rash guards, like the Mares Ultra Skin Sleeveless Rash Guard for Men, give the least amount of coverage among the three styles. Like short sleeve rashies, they are usually worn underneath wetsuits to keep scuba divers warm. Rash guards with this sort of cut have the added perk of imposing less constriction on the arms and shoulders. 

Additional Pointers:

  • Not all rash guards offer UV Protection, so look for fabrics treated with a special UV coating. Some offer up to SPF 200+ protection from the sun’s harmful rays and are tested and approved.
  • Lightweight and quick drying rash guards are key to your comfort. Some manufacturers offer antibacterial fabrics as well.
  • Rash guards are usually tight-fitted; however they do not need to be perfectly fitted to be fully functional


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