What Is the Difference Between Lycra & Polyester in Swimsuits?

A model shows off a Lycra swimsuit at the Extra Life Lycra 2010 fashion show.

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Shopping for the perfect swimsuit can be nerve-wracking for just about any pool or beach-bound girl. That's why the last thing you want is to walk away with a swimsuit that feels less than fabulous against your skin or that's doomed not to last. Choosing a suit that will amaze your admirers starts with picking the right material. Two materials that you'll frequently run across are Lycra and polyester, and when it comes to buying swimwear, knowing their differences makes all the difference.

About Lycra

A brand of spandex, Lycra is a flexible fabric that's made of rubberized elastic materials. That doesn't mean that you'll be lounging poolside sweating it out in a rubber suit -- that's just not cute. The truth is, almost all the swimwear that you see contains a certain percentage of spandex, or Lycra, but there are some suits that are entirely made of the material. If you have a need for speed and are a competitive type of girl, Lycra is considered a suitable material for competition swimwear.

About Polyester

Polyester has gotten a bad rap, and just the mention of the word has a way of filling your head with nightmares of 70s style bell bottoms, disco balls and cheap suits. When it comes to swimwear however, those are images that you can kiss bye-bye because polyester definitely has come a long way. Polyester is a manmade polymer that's produced from coal, air, water and petroleum products. It is a hydrophobic material, which means it doesn't absorb water. It is often combined with other materials, and that includes Lycra. Swimwear that's made entirely of polyester is available, but you'll find that it isn't as common as polyester blends.

Comfort

Both polyester suits and Lycra blend suits are soft to the touch, however, those Lycra-only suits can feel itchy against your skin. Who wants to itch like mad in the pool?. Polyester swimsuits are often the most comfy of the two. When it comes to your freedom of movement however, polyester has less stretch and range of movement than what you can expect when wearing a suit that's made of Lycra.

Longevity

The rubberized material in a Lycra suit has a tendency to break down faster than polyester and doesn't hold up well after repeated wear in chlorine. Sure, it won't disintegrate with the first drop of chlorine, but if you wear it often it's days are definitely numbered. Polyester suits on the other hand, suffer no ill side-effects from exposure to chlorine and can be long-lasting with the proper care.

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