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The Complete Guide to Sun Protection: UPF vs SPF

Protecting your skin from heat rays is imperative since it can lead to various issues such as photodamage, immune suppression, etc. Most people use various skin care products and sun protection clothing to protect their skin. However, choosing the right product that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorizes is vital.

Most importantly, you should clearly understand the difference between SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). We’ll delve deeper into the definition of both these terminologies and tell you about the critical elements that set them apart.

SPF and UPF: Brief Overview

Before we move on to the definition of SPF and UPF, you need to understand the importance of wearing UV-blocking clothes. You can check out the wide collection of clothing from UV Skinz to add extra protection with the skin against UV rays.

What is SPF?

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a standard that measures the effectiveness of sunscreens. It shows the amount of UV radiation necessary for sunburn on the skin, which has sunscreen relative to the UV radiation required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin.

In simple words, the SPF value tells the fraction of UV rays that can reach the skin after applying sunscreen. If there is an increase in the value of SPF, it means that there would be an increase in sunburn protection.

An example is that an SPF 15 indicates the transmission of 1/15th of the ultraviolet, considering you apply the 2mg/cm2 of sunscreen. An SPF of 15 increases the protection by more than 15 times to burn your skin.

SPF has a direct connection with solar energy or UV radiation. While the amount of solar energy will impact the exposure time, some factors will affect the solar energy, such as:

  • The intensity of solar energy
  • Type of skin
  • Amount of sunscreen you apply
  • Geographical location
  • Frequency of reapplication

An SPF 15 can block UVB rays up to 93%, whereas the SPF 50 can block UVB radiation by 98%. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is best to use an SPF of a minimum of 30.

What is UPF?

UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) is a standard measure that tells you how much UV radiation can pass through a fabric to reach the skin. It entails both the UVB and UVA that reach the earth’s surface. The UPF gives you a ratio of the sunburn-causing UV calculated with and without fabric protection.

For example, UV-blocking clothing with a UPF 30 indicates that only a single unit will reach through to the skin if 30 units of UV fall on it. So, it means that any fabric with UPF 30 can block around 96.7% of the rays.

UPF is a rating system that measures fabric’s resilience against UV rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends choosing fabrics with a UPF of 30. It considers a UPF of 30 to 49 as optimal for protection, while a UPF of 50 or above is considered excellent.

Key Differences between the UPF and SPF

Now that you know what UPF and SPF are, let’s delve deeper into the key differences between both. One thing to understand is that SPF is directly applied to the skin. However, the UPF is different. While both are measures of sun protection, they are not the same.

The SPF tells you how effective the sunscreens are while the UPF tells you the rating system for the fabrics. Also, the critical differentiator between SPF and UPF is that UPF offers protection against UVB and UVA, whereas SPF only protects against UVB rays.

Both these rays can lead to severe implications for the skin, such as cancer. Also, UVB rays can lead to sunburn, while UVA rays can infiltrate through the skin, leading to wrinkles and premature skin aging.

UV Rays and their Effect on Skin

Exposure to UV rays, either through the sun rays or other sources like tanning beds, can result in sunburn. Furthermore, it can also harm the epidermis, which is the top later of the skin. Besides the skin, it can also lead to eye problems. Also, you can experience various issues with your skin, such as:

  • Wrinkles
  • Leathery skin
  • Liver spots
  • Actinic keratosis
  • Solar elastosis

The intensity of UVB rays may vary, depending on the geographical location and the time of the year/day. Moreover, exposing your body can also weaken the immune system. Consequently, the body finds it difficult to deal with infections. Therefore, it is important to keep your skin protected against these harmful rays. Additionally, seeking shade or cooling off in the summer can provide relief and reduce the risk of sunburn. Another effective measure is to wear protective clothing, such as hats and long-sleeved shirts, to shield your skin from direct exposure to the sun.

SPF and UPF — The Bottom Line

We hope you have a clear idea of what SPF and UPF are and how they differ. Simply put, the SPF is a standard that tells you how effective the sunscreens are, whereas the UPF is a rating system for the fabrics.

Also, the vital thing to remember is that the SPF only protects you from UVB, while the UPF provides complete protection against both UVB and UVA. These small differences can make a world of difference.


Here are some frequently asked questions about the UPF and SPF.

How can you prevent sun exposure?

There are different ways through which you can avoid sun exposure. You should always try to stay in the shade instead of the sunshine whenever possible. Also, use a wide-spectrum sunscreen for your whole body. Wear hats for sun protection and sun protective fabrics to block the UVB and UVA rays.

What is the best sunscreen that I should use?

The type of sunscreen you use is a matter of preference and can be different for everyone. Nevertheless, you should ensure that the sunscreen you choose offers broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and has an SPF of 30 or more. Also, it is best to go for a brand that offers water-resistant sunscreen.

Should I protect myself from visible light from the sun?

It is best to protect yourself from all the visible lighting of the skin since it can lead to skin darkening (hyperpigmentation). You should always use sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more and wear sun-protective clothing.

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