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 worse.
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.
There are different types of sunscreen - chemical which must be absorbed into skin to be effective, and physical which creates a barrier on your skin.
Always look for broad spectrum sunscreen which protects skin from both UV-A and UV-B rays.
Green eyes, red hair?
Blue eyes, brown hair?
Click here to take a quiz and learn what skin type you are!
UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) is a relatively newer term. This standard indicates how much UV radiation is absorbed by fabric. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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