What's the Difference Between (and about) UV, SPF And UPF Ratings

UV Wavelength chart - from x-ray, Ultraviolet, Visible (colors of the rainbow) and Infrared

It's just five letters in different combinations, but still it's a bit confusing. Breaking down what these terms mean will help you make informed decisions to protect your skin from too much sun exposure and know what to look for when purchasing sunscreen and sun protection clothing.

To start, UV radiation is the energy that emanates from the sun. Only two of the three types of these rays actually reach the earth, UV-A and UV-B, both of which are invisible. UV-C rays are the most dangerous, but generally don't penetrate the ozone layer except in areas where it's thinned - like Australia.  While UV-A penetrates skin deeper than UV-B, they are both responsible for negative effects on our skin, damaging cell DNA and causing wrinkles, sunburns, brown spots and skin cancer. 

UV-A (also written as UVA) rays cause skin to age prematurely by breaking down skin’s collagen. UVA rays are responsible for wrinkles and discolored spots on your skin called melasma.

UV-B (also written as UVB) rays cause suntans, sunburns and blistering skin. UVB rays penetrate the outermost layers of skin. By the way, there is no such thing as a safe suntan.
A 3 column chart explains differences in UV rays, SPF and UPF ratings, what they mean and how much they protect your skin from sun exposure

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a standard used to measure effectiveness of sunscreen. A high SPF sunscreen means a person can be exposed to sun longer before getting sun burned. But this depends on your skin type. If you typically burn within ten minutes of sun exposure, then wearing an SPF 15 sunscreen would theoretically enable you to stay outside in the sun approximately 15x longer - ie: 150 minutes before burning.

For sunscreen to be effective, it must be applied liberally and completely to exposed skin. Wait about 15 minutes for the sunscreen to absorb into your skin before going outside. Then set an alarm as you will need to reapply every two hours or less if you've been in the water - to ensure the efficacy of the sunscreen is protecting your skin.

There are different types of sunscreen - chemical which must react with skin to be effective, and physical which creates a barrier on top of your skin.

Always look for broad spectrum sunscreen which protects skin from both UV-A and UV-B rays. Physical sunscreen is safer for your skin, your body and the environment.

Green eyes, red hair?
Blue eyes, brown hair? 

Freckles?

Click here to take a quiz and learn what skin type you are. (Hint: Dark brown eyes, black hair and dark complexions are still at risk for developing wrinkles, melasma and skin cancers).

All skin tones need to be sun protected. 

UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) is a standard indicating how much UV radiation can penetrate fabric and reach skin. This rating system is applied to clothing, fabric and hats. A UPF clothing rating of 50 means 98% of UV Rays are absorbed by the fabric before they reach your skin. In other words, about 1/50th of the sun's harmful rays can penetrate UPF 50 fabric and reach the skin. This is considered to be an excellent rating.

Fabric with sun protective qualities is made either by construction with a tight weave or is treated with a coating to absorb UV rays. The darker the fabric the more harmful rays it will absorb vs. white fabric. Think dark jeans vs. white t-shirt.

Many innovative sun protection fabrics are actually woven with TO2 - the same ingredient found in sunscreen. The difference is this type of fabric construction means the sun protection properties are inherent to the fabric and therefore permanently sun protective. Fabrics treated with a coating to absorb UV rays will wash out and wear down over time.

Read more about our design and sun protection fabric standards, including our use of OEKO-TEX Standard 100 certified materials here.

What's important to remember is sunscreen breaks down on your skin and needs to be reapplied every two hours. And, often we don't apply enough sunscreen to provide adequate coverage.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally to exposed skin, wait 20 minutes to absorb into skin before going outside.
  • Repeat every two hours!

Sun protection clothing will maintain its ability to block harmful UV rays from skin the moment it is worn.

What rating is right for you?

Here's a handy chart that illustrates how much protection sunscreen rated at SPF 15, 30, 50 and clothing rated at UPF 15, 30, 50 will protect your skin.
Comparison chart of SPF and UPF ratings at 15, 30 and 50 - what the ratings mean, how much they protect skin from UV rays, and how to apply sunscreen.

Remember, it costs less to invest in UPF rated sun protection clothing and sunscreen to protect your skin than it is to correct the effects of too much sun exposure to your skin!

To learn more about how to choose sun protection clothing, read this article here.

All skin tones benefit from wearing sun protection clothing. Share this article with a few of your friends!

#getheligirl #wearUPF #defendyourglow

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