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SPF/UPF Ratings on Labels: What Do They Mean?

Posted on 31 March 2022

There's a lot of confusion surrounding SPF ratings and what they actually mean. Many people think that SPF 50 means you can stay in the sun for fifty hours without getting burned. But that's not actually true! So, what does SPF 50 really mean? And more importantly, how can you use it to protect yourself from the sun? Keep reading to learn more about SPF/UPF ratings.

What Are SPF/UPF Ratings?

When it comes to sunscreen, there are two main types of labels that you'll see on products: SPF and UPF. But what do they mean?

  • The sun protection factor, or SPF, measures how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. The better the protection, the higher the SPF number. For example, an SPF 30 sunscreen will filter out 97% of UV rays, while an SPF 50 sunscreen will filter out 98% of UV rays.
  • UPF, or ultraviolet protection factor, is similar to SPF, but it measures the amount of UV radiation able to penetrate a piece of fabric and reach your skin. The higher the UPF number, the more protection the fabric will provide. For example, a UPF 30 fabric will allow only 1/30th of the sun's UV rays to pass through it, while in a UPF 50 fabric, only 1/50th of the UV rays can penetrate through it.

So, what does this all mean? How can you use these numbers to ensure you're properly protected from the sun?

How Can I Use the SPF/UPF Ratings When Making Sun Protection Decisions?

  1. When choosing a sunscreen, always look for one with an SPF of 30 or higher. And be sure to apply it generously — most people only apply 25-50% of the recommended amount.
  2. When choosing clothes, look for items with a UPF of 30 or higher. Darker colors will offer more protection than lighter colors. And remember that wet clothes offer less protection than dry clothes.

Important Tips

Here are a few things to remember for SPF/UPF ratings:

  • No sunscreen, no matter how high the SPF, will filter out 100% of UV rays. So, it's still important to take other precautions against sun exposure, such as wearing protective clothing and seeking shade when possible.
  • The SPF number only indicates how well the sunscreen will protect against UVB rays, the kind of radiation that causes sunburn. It says nothing about UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply and has a link to skin cancer. Look for sunscreens that offer "broad-spectrum" protection against both UVB and UVA rays.
  • Water resistance is another important factor to consider when choosing sunscreen. A water-resistant sunscreen will maintain its SPF level even after 40 minutes of swimming or sweating. But remember, no sunscreen is completely waterproof, so you'll still need to reapply regularly. 
  • Finally, don't be fooled by high SPF numbers. There's no evidence that sunscreens with SPF values higher than 50 offer greater protection than those with SPF 50. In fact, they may give people a false sense of security and encourage them to stay in the sun longer than they should.

Learn More About SPF/UPF Ratings

You can use SPF and UPF numbers to ensure you're getting the sun protection you need by keeping these things in mind. When shopping for sunscreen, opt for one with an SPF of at least 30. And, if you'll be spending time outside in direct sunshine, wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 50.

Are you looking for sun-protective clothing for both adults and children? Check out our collection at Little Leaves Clothing Co.! Our products are designed by doctors and provide UPF 50+ protection from the sun's harmful rays. Contact us or shop with us now for the best sun-protection clothing for your family!


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