Wetsuit Vs Rash Guard: Are They Substitutes?

Wetsuits and rash guards are both essential gears for swimmers, snorkelers, and surfers. Although they are closely related, they serve entirely different purposes.

They may also look very similar to an ordinary person, but you’re supposed to choose one based on the climate. So, for an ordinary person it then begs the question ‘wetsuit Vs rash guard: are they any different?’

Ideally, a wetsuit keeps water enthusiasts warm when exploring chilled ocean waters. It also shields against scrapes and cuts from marine animals and debris. Rash guards, on the other hand, are meant to provide a thermal shield to the skin. As the name suggests, they protect the body from developing rashes resulting from ultraviolet rays.


What Is Wetsuit?

A wetsuit is a costume worn when exploring in the water to warm your body and offer a shield against potentially harmful marine creatures. The primary purpose of a wetsuit is to insulate your body, thanks to the neoprene in it, which is an excellent insulator. These costumes come in various widths and designs to ensure your comfort.

But, to acquire a suitable wetsuit, you have to understand the circumstances and climate under which you will be swimming or diving. Like, if you’re swimming in shallow, warm waters under favorable temperatures, a wetsuit won’t be mandatory. You can wear a trusty wetsuit top and board shorts and still feel warm.

 If it’s about wetsuit top vs. rash guard you would rather buy the two if you live in a region where seasons vary. Also, it’s not very advisable to rent such costumes even if they are presented when clean. If you must, always protect yourself. Avoid, by all means, having your intimate parts come into contact as some people pee on them.

When To Use Wetsuit

Essentially, when to wear a wetsuit is solely upon your preferences. But, using one whenever you are in the water is very beneficial. As you have read above, a wetsuit is absolutely necessary for warmth when in cold waters.

When in the water under relatively warm temperatures, you can comfortably rock your 2mm to 3mm wetsuit. But, if you have a tesla compression shirt or a good rash guard, you can use it instead. However, if you intend to dive at reefs and caves, a wetsuit will come in handy. A long-sleeved rash guard may also serve but it provides a slight shield.

Also, if you suspect there may be some puncturing animals at the time you’ll be in the waters, safeguard yourself maximally. A thermal rash vest wouldn’t be a good fit in this case even if it keeps you warm. You need a thicker, long-sleeved wetsuit for guaranteed safety. About thickness, various brands recommend different thicknesses for different water temperatures.

In essence, a wetsuit also serves as a rash guard, so you can use it any time, provided you get the thickness right. The best thing about a wetsuit is that it offers greater superficial shelter, added jumpiness, and comfort. You can even wear a thin one with an under armor compression shirt for UV shielding. 

What is Rash Guard?

Also called a swim shirt, a rash guard is a scuba diving, athletic or swimming or gear. It’s made from lycra to shield users from UV rays. Ideally, it “guards'' your skin from developing rashes and prevents chafing. Just like a wetsuit, a rash guard also protects the wearers’ torso and arms from pricks by aquatic animals like jellyfish and other threats.

It provides maximal UV protection, but negligible warmth and insulation. Rash guards are available in long or short sleeves, as well as in varying thicknesses. It, therefore, makes it easy to get a good fit for different conditions. So, when do you really need to use your rash guard?

When To Use Rash Guard

Although most people swim and snorkel in ordinary swimsuits, it’s always a risky affair. You need to wear a rash guard whenever you’re in the waters under the hot sun. Exposing your skin to the scorching sun rays which are pretty much harsh is imprudent. The unforgiving rays gradually expose your skin to the risk of skin cancer, suntan, and early aging.

As a snorkeling enthusiast, this is the most perfect gear. If you’re a snorkeler residing in the tropics, then you may need to choose a rash guard over wetsuit. What you will love most about rash guards is that they have varying thicknesses. They can also be long or short-sleeved so you can choose one for different climates.

Although a wetsuit can also serve as a rash guard, it doesn’t fit in all situations. Like, a rash guard for snorkeling has been an all-time favorite for dedicated snorkelers in tropical regions. Here, all you need is full shielding from the sun’s glare, and this gear offers that and more.

Wetsuit Vs Rash Guard: What Is The Actual Difference?

By now you already have a clear picture of these two costumes. But, you may ask, what are the actual differences between them? Of course, there is more to the visible variations you see.

Those gears come with unique materials and inbuilt features to serve their specific roles. Below are explicit features showing the differences;



Rash Guard


Should fit perfectly- not too tight or too loose

Tight-fitting to avoid dragging


Must be neoprene-made for warmth

Can be made of lycra, nylon-neoprene, spandex, polyester, or nylon


Ranges between 0.5mm-7mm for various conditions


Ease of cleaning and maintenance

Easy to clean: hand-rinse rigorously after each use and sun-dry it. Clean with wetsuit shampoos only when addressing smells

Easy to clean: hand-clean properly with cold or warm water and sun-dry it. Use a block of biodegradable soap or soak in a cup of baking soda overnight to clear the stench.

UV guard

Negligible SPF protection

High built-in SPF shield factor, some have UPF 50+ properties. 


Protects user’s body against the cold and marine creatures’ stings

Protects the user against UV rays and slightly against stings

Speed of drying

Between 6 hours and 24 hours or more, depending on thickness and the climate

Dries pretty fast


Different types based on thickness and fitting

Many types based on UPF properties and stitching styles

Rash Guard Vs Wetsuit: Which one to buy?

Are you still wondering which costume between the two you should purchase? Worry not, reading further, you will be able to demystify this. The first question you need to ask yourself is why you need this gear. From there you can easily choose whatever will serve the intended purpose.

If it’s for optimal safety against the blazing sun, your guess is already as good- a rash guard! But, if you want to avoid shivers and lips turning blue because of the cold, buy yourself a dense wetsuit. You can also explore other options like wearing a rash guard inside a wetsuit under different conditions.

But, if you’re not in either extreme cold or hot regions, you may not have the luxury to openly choose between the two. If it’s not about sun protection, always choose a wetsuit because it does much of what a rash guard does. If you have to break the waves, a wetsuit rash guard will also come in handy for torso protection from the jagged wax on the slates.


If you’re planning to start water activity exploration, you can never have too much information about these gears. After all, they all address safety matters. So, here you go;

Can I Use a Compression Shirt For Swimming?

You can, but it is an absolute necessity unless it’s a diving compression shirt. They don’t protect your body against cold or harsh sun rays. Instead, they’re best worn in gyms.

Do you wear a rash guard over your wetsuit?

You don’t have to. You can put on your rash guard under the wetsuit, but not vice versa. When worn inside a wetsuit, a rash guard could add a little warmth.

Does A Rash Guard Keep You Warm?

No. A rash guard isn’t made to keep you warm; even neoprene rash guards are only warm a bit. However, it can add comfort when worn alongside a wetsuit. 

Do Wetsuits Prevent Rashes?

Wetsuits are not fashioned to prevent rashes but to some degree, they can. A rash guard is ideal for sunny areas because it offers up to 98% UV shielding.

Do I Need A Rash Vest Under My Wetsuit?

You don’t need to, but you can. If you need an additional layer for heat or safeguarding from chaffing, a rash vest under your wetsuit will do.

Final Verdict

When it’s all said and done, your safety comes first. You do not want to contract respiratory diseases from the cold. Also, your skin needs full protection, especially in summer when you have to swim under the wrath of the burning sun. You can now choose a good fit for your expeditions based on the above information.

Norma A Robertson

Hey, my name is Norma A Robertson. My hobbies include paddle boarding, kite surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, etc. I started this website to share my experience and ideas as well as review products that interest me to help everyone who reads it. I hope you find what you are looking for in my articles.

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