Protecting our skin from the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays is crucial. Many parts of Australia and New Zealand will experience UV levels of 3 and above for the majority of the year. A UV level of 3 is considered 'moderate' and can cause short- and long-term damage to our skin. To protect our skin, we rely on clothing and products that provide sun protection. This blog post decodes the concepts of UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) and SPF (sun protection factor) to help you understand what they mean and how they can help you protect your skin.
UPF is a measure used to determine how effectively a fabric can provide sun protection. This is based on the design of the product (skin coverage) and the fabric (how much UV is blocked). UPF ratings range from 15 to 50+. The higher the UPF rating, the greater the protection against UV rays. A high UPF rating is achieved through good coverage (i.e., full-length sunsuits) and a tightly woven fabric.
Over time, the level of protection that a product offers will reduce from wear and tear, stretching, and exposure to chemicals.
SPF is a measure used to determine the level of protection that is provided by a sunscreen product. The higher the SPF rating, the less UV passes through. Sunscreen aids in protecting the skin from ultraviolet B radiation, which is responsible for sunburn (and skin cancer). The SPF value represents the time that your skin is protected (compared to unprotected skin). For example, if your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, an SPF 30 sunscreen should provide 30 times longer protection (approximately 300 minutes).
The effectiveness of sunscreen will diminish over time from sweat, water, and rubbing, making it crucial that you continue to re-apply to any areas not covered by UPF clothing.
In short, UPF is specific to the protective ability of fabric/clothing and SPF is specific to the protection offered by sunscreen. Both UPF and SPF have an important role to play in protecting our skin from sun exposure.