What’s the Difference Between UPF and SPF?

Retro sunglassesIt’s important to keep your skin safe while spending time outdoors. Some people can develop a sunburn in a matter of minutes, but radiation from the sun can do more than make your skin a little red. And when you consider that hiking, biking, rock climbing, etc. leaves you exposed to the sun for hours on end, it’s especially important to protect your skin.

Although people often neglect sun protection when heading outdoors, staying safe from the sun is fairly simple if you know what to do. One of the biggest questions we get from customers is what’s the difference between UPF and SPF?

Are UPF and SPF synonymous? Are they interchangeable? What do they even mean?

Most people understand that UPF and SPF are metrics that indicate protection from the sun’s rays. The details are a little fuzzy for most people, though. What does UPF 50 mean? Is it the same as SPF 50? How do the two factor into keeping your skin safe from the sun?

Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

Most people are familiar with Sun Protection Factor. SPF ratings have been printed on sunscreen bottles and sunblocks for decades, and is used almost exclusively for lotions, sprays, creams, salves, serums, etc.

SPF ratings only apply to UVB radiation, and do not block UVA radiation.

  • SPF 25 & 30 provides “Very Good UV Protection” and blocks 96% – 97.4% of UVB radiation.
  • SPF 35+ provides “Excellent UV Protection” and blocks 97.5%+ UVB radiation.

Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)

Ultraviolet Protection Factor is a much newer rating than SPF. The UPF rating is used for clothing and garments rather than sunscreens and sunblocks.

The biggest difference between UPF and SPF is that UPF blocks both UVB and UVA radiation.

  • UPF 25 – UPF 35 provides “Very Good UV Protection” and blocks 96% – 97.4% of UV radiation.
  • UPF 40+ provides “Excellent UV Protection” and blocks 97.5% – 98% of UV radiation.

The Skin Cancer Foundation has a good article explaining the difference between UVA and UVB radiation.

Ways to stay safe from the sun when heading outdoors

Basically, if you want the most protection from ultraviolet radiation, you need outdoor clothing with a high UPF rating that provides maximum coverage. Apply sunscreen with a high SPF rating on all exposed skin, but remember that SPF only blocks UVB radiation and does not stop deep penetrating UVA radiation.

Ultraviolet radiation does more than just visible damage. It can lead to dehydration, heat exhaustion, sun poisoning, and long term affects like sun spots and skin cancer.

Here’s what to wear to stay safe from the sun and UV radiation.

  • Sunglasses
  • Hat (the wider the brim the better)
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Sunscreen with SPF
  • Clothing with UPF (think long sleeves and pants rather than tank tops and shorts)

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