SPF vs UPF: What’s the Difference?

SPF vs UPF: What’s the Difference?

Protective clothing is the most effective form of sun protection, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. But when you’re shopping for a sun protective hat, or other clothing, you’ll normally see a ‘UPF’ rating, rather than the SPF one you might be more used to. 

So, what’s the difference? Or are UPF and SPF the same thing?


SPF & UPF explained

UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. It’s a measure of what percentage of the sun’s UV rays (UVA and UVB) are able to penetrate a fabric and reach the skin beneath. 

Clothing with a UPF rating of 30-49 offers very good protection, and clothing with a UPF rating of 50+ gives ‘excellent’ protection. UPF 50+ is the highest rating available, and means only 98% or less of the sun’s UV rays make it through the fabric to the skin beneath.

SPF works differently. It stands for Sun Protection Factor, and is used to rate the level of protection offered by sun creams and cosmetics. While UPF fabrics protect against both UVA and UVB rays, SPF refers only to protection against UVB rays unless the suncream is labelled ‘broad spectrum’.

It’s a common misconception that the SPF factor refers to how many minutes you should go between suncream applications, with SPF 50 sun cream needing to be reapplied after 50 minutes. 

What the SPF rating actually refers to is how many ‘times’ your natural protection is prolonged by wearing the sun cream. So if your skin would normally start burning after 15 minutes outside, you’ll be protected for 15 minutes x 50 minutes with SPF 50. Of course, this is only a guideline; sweating, coming into contact with water, not applying enough sun cream, and many other factors will affect how protected you actually are.

Is UPF better than SPF? 

UPF and SPF are measuring different things, so one isn’t automatically better than the other. 

But if we instead compare SPF 50 sun cream and UPF 50+ clothing for their level of sun protection, UPF 50+ clothing comes out on top. 

Why? Well for one thing, because the level of protection stays constant, and doesn’t diminish throughout the day. With sun cream, the level of protection relies on you applying enough product to begin with, topping up regularly, and covering all areas. And with SPF, you’re generally only measuring protection against UVB rays, rather than both UVB and UVA rays, which are covered under the UPF rating.

💡 Good to know: If a sun cream is labelled ‘Broad-Spectrum’, or specifies UVA and UVB protection, it does protect against both types of rays. But the SPF rating only technically covers UVB rays.

For the best protection, combine a UPF 50+ sun hat and clothing with SPF 50+ sun cream on any exposed skin. 


What’s the difference between UVA rays and UVB rays?

The majority of the UV rays that hit the earth’s surface are UVA rays. These penetrate your skin more deeply, and are the primary cause of skin damage. UVB rays are stronger, and are the rays that cause sunburn.


Stay cool and protected

At Sunday Afternoons, we’ve been crafting high protection sun hats for over 30 years. Our sun hats all rated UPF 50+ for sun protection as standard, and are made of cool and breathable materials – so you can head outside more often, and stay out there for longer. 

Whether you’re trekking through rainforest, or heading out to a barbecue, find the perfect style to keep you cool and protected. 

Browse our popular collections: UPF 50+ Sun Hats for Men, UPF 50+ Sun Hats for Women, UPF 50+ Sun Hats for Kids