tankini swimsuit with skirt

Tankini | What is a tankini swimsuit and how to choose the right one!

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What is a Tankini?

The “tankini” was officially introduced to swimwear back in 1998.  Although two piece bathing suits, including the modern day bikini (Figure 1), have been in use since the early to mid 20th century, the official modern day concept of a tankini was introduced just over 20 years ago. This brilliant concept was focused on building confidence for women to have the freedom of a two-piece swimsuit that maintained the look and coverage of a one-piece.    


bikini sketch

© Copyright, 2022. Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD. 
Figure 1. Traditional Bikini.

The first tankini bathing suits (Figure 2) looked similar to a one-piece with a separation at the level of about the navel to form a tank top as the top and a swim brief as the bottom. 

Tankini Sketch

© Copyright, 2022. Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD. 
Figure 2. Original Tankini Design.

Tankini bathing suits have evolved over the past 20 years to continue to acknowledge the expanding nature of our experience in the sun.  Swimwear is not just for swimming alone anymore.  We now recognize that we spend time in and out of the water and need go-to swimwear that permits this level of versatility of use.  Tankini swimwear has evolved along with this trend- both tops and bottoms have been ever-expanding their use and look. 

tankini swimsuit
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What to look for in a Tankini Top and how are tankini tops sized?

Tankini tops for women have changed over the years.  There are several styles that are now available that take into consideration swimwear in the water, swimwear for water sports, swimwear for water aerobics, swimwear for fashion, etc.  Many of these styles will include a built-in shelf bra. Tankini with underwire options may be available, however, these will be fit based on true bra size as opposed to dress size like most swimwear is sized. 

For tankinis to be worn as swimwear in the water, look for a close fitting bodice to avoid fabric "floating" in the water around your waist. If you do have a looser or blouson fit for the tankini top, it may help to tie the extra fabric on the side while in the water.


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Tankinis as swimsuits for water sports ideally have longer sleeves and more coverage from UV.  This can help reduce the risk of sunscreen wearing off and the potential for excess UV exposure that can run the risk of sunburns, skin cancer, and premature aging of the skin. If you choose a tankini top with less UPF coverage, be sure to reapply sunscreen every 40 to 80 minutes depending on the water repellent qualities of your particular sunscreen.


Tankinis used for water aerobics can help with freedom of movement and allow for more confidence while benefiting from resistance training.  Since water aerobics are often in indoor pools, choosing a close fitting bodice can allow for ease of movement.


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What to look for in Tankini bottom?

Tankini bottoms have evolved from a simple brief to a tankini with shorts (Figure 3) and a tankini with a skirt, most often with built-in swim briefs. In so many ways, a tankini with shorts or a skirt is like an entire outfit with built-in undergarments! For travel and sports, this can be ideal to consider.

Tankini with shorts

© Copyright, 2022. Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD. 
Figure 3. Tankini with Shorts Design.

Tankini shorts generally have built in swim briefs which make this type of tankini one cohesive outfit.  These have the benefit of use beyond being in the water.  Wearing a tankini with shorts to a waterpark, kayaking, canoeing, etc., lets you enjoy a day outdoors that can bring anything.  Tankinis with shorts are like activewear that can be worn in the water.

Tankini with skirt

© Copyright, 2022. Erum Ilyas, MD, MBE, FAAD. 
Figure 4. Tankini with Skirt Design.

Tankini's with skirts have all the same benefits as tankinis with shorts with the added bonus of maintaining a style edge and a feminine silhouette.

Are there Tankini plus-size options?

Tankini swimsuits for women are often considered body inclusive as they provide feminine silhouettes with more style options that can flatter multiple body types.  As tankini styles have expanded, they have taken on forms and styles that give more and more women the options to wear swim with confidence based on their personal preferences.

Tankini plus size tops, with built-in shelf bra options, can help provide the support and shape women need in the water.


What about sun protection?


UV protection in swimwear is about a team effort between :

  • Clothing (i.e., the swimwear itself + coverups + add-ons such as rashguards, swim leggings)
  • SPF (i.e., sunscreen)
  • Hats
  • Sunglasses

It is true that the tankini does offer additional coverage depending on the style compared to a standard bikini.  However, it is still important to verify that the swimsuit material has a UPF of at least 30 to ensure it has very good UV protection, a UPF 50+ for excellent protection.  Checking the style and fit to find items that offer additional coverage such as high back details, mock neck, sleeves, etc., can ensure you are taking the best measures to avoid excess UV damage while enjoying yourself outdoors.



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1 comment

Can you wear the UPF 50 in a chlorine pool?
Will it ruin the protection?

Janet Feinberg

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