Sun Safety

Sunscreen and the difference between SPF and UPF

MoleMap Team
August 23, 2023
5 minutes

Chances are you’ve seen the SPF rat­ing on a bot­tle of sun­screen. You like­ly know what SPF is and why you need it to pro­tect your skin from skin can­cer. But do you know what UPF stands for and why it is also important?

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The Dif­fer­ence Between SPF and UPF

Both SPF and UPF involve rat­ings, but they mea­sure two dif­fer­ent things. In a nut­shell, SPF mea­sures how effec­tive a sun­screen is at pro­tect­ing your skin against burn­ing from the sun’s rays. UPF, on the oth­er hand, mea­sures the amount of UVR (ultra­vi­o­let radi­a­tion) that a fab­ric blocks.

The SPF (Sun Pro­tec­tion Fac­tor) on Sunscreens

SPF is the mea­sure­ment of how well a par­tic­u­lar sun­screen pro­tects your skin from sunburn.

To gen­er­ate an SPF rat­ing, researchers mea­sure SPF in a lab­o­ra­to­ry on human skin. They mea­sure it by iden­ti­fy­ing the amount of time it takes for skin to get burnt by ultra­vi­o­let radi­a­tion (par­tic­u­lar­ly UVB, the cul­prit behind sun­burn) in two ways: (1) with­out sun­screen, and (2) with sun­screen that’s been lib­er­al­ly applied.

If skin that has sun­screen pro­tec­tion burns in about 300 sec­onds, for exam­ple, but with­out sun­screen takes only 10 sec­onds, the SPF would be 30010. This is equiv­a­lent to SPF30.

SPF only mea­sures the amount of blocked UVB, not UVA. You can pur­chase sun­screens, known as broad-spec­trum sun­screen, that pro­tect you from both types of rays. The Can­cer Coun­cil Aus­tralia rec­om­mends using a non-expired sun­screen labelled as SPF30 or above, water-resis­tant, and broad spectrum.

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The UPF (Ultra­vi­o­let Pro­tec­tion Fac­tor) on Clothing

Over the past 20 years, cloth­ing with UPF has been see­ing sub­stan­tial growth world­wide, includ­ing here in Australia.

Sun pro­tec­tion cloth­ing isn’t SPF rat­ed, but rather UPF rat­ed. The UPF rat­ing mea­sures how able the fab­ric is in block­ing the sun’s ultra­vi­o­let radi­a­tion (UVR). Sun pro­tec­tion cloth­ing is treat­ed with chem­i­cal UV absorbers or colour­less dyes that block out ultraviolet‑A rays (UVA) and ultraviolet‑B rays (UVB).

UPF Rat­ings

The ultra­vi­o­let pro­tec­tion fac­tor mea­sure­ment was stan­dard­ised in Aus­tralia in 1996. To obtain the seal of rec­om­men­da­tion by the Skin Can­cer Foun­da­tion, gar­ments need to have a UPF of 30 or greater.

The cur­rent Aus­tralian / New Zealand Stan­dard is bro­ken down into three UPF rat­ings and pro­tec­tion cat­e­gories as follows:

UPF Rat­ing Per­cent UPV Block Pro­tec­tion Strength
40, 45, 50, and 50 plus over 97.5%Excel­lent25, 30, and 3596.0 – 97.4%Very good15 and 2093.3 – 95.9%Good

As the UPF num­ber gets high­er, your skin is exposed to less light. A 50 UPF rat­ing would mean the fab­ric allows two per­cent or 1/​50th of the sun’s ultra­vi­o­let radi­a­tion to get through and reach your skin.

Fab­ric Factors

Each fab­ric varies on the UPF rat­ings depend­ing on the following:

  • Colour: Dark­er colours absorb more light than lighter colours
  • Mate­r­i­al weight: Heav­ier fab­rics absorb more UVR
  • Weave: The tighter the weave, the less UVR can get through
  • Mois­ture con­tent: Some fab­rics pro­vide less pro­tec­tion when wet
  • Ten­sion or stretch: More fab­ric stretch reduces UPF rating
  • Con­di­tion of fab­ric: Frayed or worn fab­rics lets more UVR through

Light-coloured gar­ments would pro­vide you with less pro­tec­tion from UV rays and can even be as much as 50 per­cent less pro­tec­tive if wet.

More Skin Safe­ty Tips and Tools

Wear­ing pro­tec­tive cloth­ing and apply­ing sun­screen are only two impor­tant things you can do to reduce your risk of skin can­cer. You should also seek shade, slap on a wide-brimmed hat, slip on sun­glass­es, and get screened for skin can­cer to decrease your skin can­cer risks.

It’s vital­ly impor­tant that you get checked for skin can­cer ear­ly on and that you know your risk lev­el. You can find out right now if you have a high risk of melanoma by tak­ing our MoleMap Risk Assess­ment Tool. And if it’s found out that you’re at risk, you can then begin tak­ing the nec­es­sary pre­ven­ta­tive action steps.

MoleMap skin cancer clinic is one of the best mole check australia for catch­ing melanoma ear­ly. In fact, it can and has diag­nosed almost ten times more ear­ly-stage skin can­cer cas­es than any oth­er screen­ing tool or prac­tice. MoleMap offers you an almost 100% five-year sur­vival rate.

Ear­ly detec­tion is vital. Tumours that are thin and haven’t yet trav­elled down from the sur­face of your skin most like­ly mean they haven’t spread into the lay­ers or oth­er parts or areas of your body, which could be fatal.

When you use MoleMap to skin check melanoma ear­ly, you pro­vide your­self with a high­er like­li­hood of being able to have it cut out and cured.

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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