What is UPF 50+ and why should I care?
Posted on 20 December 2016
Why I don't wear cotton kaftans, coveralls or sarongs...
A friend of mine, recently said to me something along the lines of…
“you keep saying standard summer fabrics, like cotton, typically have a UPF 5 rating. But, why do I care? I never get burnt wearing a t-shirt”
It was at this point, I realised, perhaps I should dive deeper into what UPF means and why it’s important.
What is UPF?
UPF stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor. Often sun protective clothing will have been tested and will have a UPF rating, which provides information on how much ultraviolet radiation will be blocked by the clothing. In basic terms, it’s just like SPF (Sun Protection Factor) ratings for sunscreen, but for your clothes.
But what does UPF5 versus UPF50 mean?
If a garment is rated as UPF50+, this means that 1/50th or 2% of UV radiation is able to penetrate the fabric.
The current Australian/New Zealand Standard for UPF rated clothing has three major protection categories:
- Good: UPF Rating 15, 20
- Very Good: UPF rating 25, 30, 35
- Excellent: UPF rating 40, 45, 50, 50+
UPF rated or not, most fabrics will provide some protection from the sun. For example, flowy kaftan coveralls and oh-so-versatile sarongs look ah-mazing, but provide you with a UPF5. This means that 1/5 or 20% of the ultraviolet radiation will pass through the clothing to your skin (ie that’s not ‘good’).
But I don’t get burnt wearing a t-shirt, so why is this important?
Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world. At least two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. The major cause, up to 90-95%, of skin cancer is related to sun exposure.
So, whilst you might not feel a burn or see a tan your skin is being impacted by sun exposure.
But what’s really scary is that the damaged done by exposing your skin is cumulative over your lifetime. So, by continually exposing your skin you are continually adding to your risks of skin ageing and skin cancer.
What impacts UPF?
There are heaps of factors that determine how effective clothing is at reducing the ultraviolet radiation reaching your skin. The strongest determinates include:
- The weave density – The tighter the weave, the more protection. And whilst holding a garment up to see how might light passes through it should like a good idea – it isn’t ideal because we can only see visible light, not UV radiation.
- The fabric type – generally speaking, cotton and rayon offer the least protection. Where as polyester, along with wool, silk and nylon, offer the greatest protection.
- The colour - In general, darker colours and higher dye concentrations absorb more UVR than do lighter colours. According to “Cancer of the Skin: Expert Consult” by Eggert Stockfleth, if a given white fabric has a UPF22, a given black fabric will have a UPF 257. And as white has the ability to scatter and reflect light, any ‘off-white’ or ‘oatmeal’ coloured items will have a lower UPF of 6.
Some of the other factors include whether the fabric is woven or knitted, the fabric thickness and weight, whether chemical compounds have been added to the fabric and whether the fabric is worn, faded or threadbare.
Who tests the UPF of garments?
The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) is the Australian Government's primary authority on radiation protection and nuclear safety. ARPANSA contributes to Australian sun protection standards, working with the Cancer Council Australia, SunSmart and other organisations to raise awareness of the dangers of sun exposure. ARPANSA also tests clothing, fabrics, hats and other materials to determine the UPF rating in accordance with Australian Standard AS/NZS4399 'Sun protective clothing - Evaluation and classification'.
So, how does Honeybell Waterwear stack up?
- All Honeybell Waterwear garments have been tested and are certified as providing UPF 50+, the highest possible rating, blocking (at least) 98% of harmful rays.
- All Honeybell Waterwear garments are offered in dark colours. Not only do these classic colours complement any swimsuit, patterned or plain, they are also better at absorbing UV rays
- All Honeybell Waterwear garments are cut to a relaxed fit. Not only is this more flattering and comfortable, but it also means they have a higher UPF rating as compared to traditional tight fitting rashie, where the fabric is stretched, causing the UPF rating to decrease.
When chosen and used correctly, sun protective clothing is that best form of sun protection you can find. So, for your own peace of mind, in addition to all the other sun safe practices you’ve been using to protect yourself, try slipping on a Honeybell Waterwear garment.