What Does A UPF Rating Really Mean?

broad spectrum spf upf uv protection uv rays uva uvb

what does a upf 50 rating mean

Don’t you just love acronyms? They were originally devised to speed up communication, a kind of shortcut. Many acronyms are well known. FBI, CIA, and USA are used world-wide. Other acronyms are used so often that the original language has been lost. LASER, RADAR, and SCUBA fall into this category. The internet has taken acronyms to a whole new level. Here’s a fun list to test your internet acronym knowledge:

  1. BBT -  Be Back Tomorrow. 
  2. IRL -  In Real Life. 
  3. TBH -  To Be Honest. 
  4. DFTBA -  Don’t Forget To Be Awesome
  5. OAN -  On Another Note. 
  6. DAE -  Does Anyone Else
  7. FTW - For The Win. 
  8. YSK -  You Should Know. 
  9. IANAD -  I Am Not A Doctor. 
  10. SMH -   Shaking My Head

One acronym everyone is familiar with is SPF. That’s the acronym used to describe the sun protection factor in sunscreens. Franz Greiter, a Swiss scientist is credited with coining the term “sun protection factor” or SPF in 1974. It has become the universal scale for rating the effectiveness of sunscreens. 

We know that even before we had the acronym SPF, people were interested in protecting their skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Early Greek and Egyptian sunscreens were made from plants, including olive oil, rice, lupine, and jasmine. Man-made sunscreens came on the scene in the early 1900’s from the cosmetic company, L’Oreal. Interestingly, a product called Red Vet Pet, was developed during World War II for the military. It was sticky and smelled bad, but when Coppertone changed the formula, sunscreen sales took off with the Coppertone Girl. 

Today there’s a new acronym on the scene: UPF. Ultraviolet (UV) Protection Factor is the number assigned to fabrics and materials used in UV protective clothing. These UV protective garments are manufactured to provide protection very similar to sunscreen.

How so?

If a sunscreen has an SPF of 50, it simply means that 1/50 of the sun’s UVB rays will penetrate the skin (unless it is a "broad spectrum" sunscreen in which it will also block the UVA rays). Likewise, if a garment has a UPF rating of 50, it allows only 1/50 of the sun’s rays (BOTH UVA & UVB) to penetrate the fabric. All you have to do is wear it. No reapplying and no guesswork about how much to apply.

upf ratings

Sunscreens and their SPF ratings will always have a place in the sun protection market for parts of our bodies we don’t cover with clothes. However, sun protective garments with their UPF ratings are increasingly being considered essential - and should be essential - to keeping our skin safe and healthy. Clothing with UPF ratings of 25 and above are considered "Very Good" protection and help prevent premature aging of the skin, skin damage and skin cancer, making UPF certainly an acronym worth using and remembering. 


Mike McCarthy

Images courtesy of ohganix.com, wallaroohats.com, planetgearcompany.com, betatextiles.com & mielmelba.com

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