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What is UPF??

by Paula Connaghan, Weather or Not Fabrics

Sun protective fabrics have undergone a change in label information. The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) has published new national standards for the preparation and labeling for fabrics and garments intended to protect humans from the sun's UVA and UVB radiation. 

The new value for ultraviolet protection is called UPF (ultraviolet protection factor.) This is the scientific unit used to indicate the amount of UV protection provided to skin by fabric.

In the chart below are the standards for UPF ratings on fabric and clothing.

Classification Category

UPF Range

UPF Values Allowed on Labels

Approximate % 
UV Blocked

Good UV Protection 15-24 15 and 20 93.3% - 95.8%
Very Good UV Protection 25 - 39 25, 30, and 35 96.0% - 97.45
Excellent UV Protection  40 - 50+ 40, 45, 50, 50+ 97.5% - 98.0%

(No UPF value may be declared for a UPF range less than 15)

This factor is compared to SPF (solar protection factor) used in sunscreen lotion bottles in its interpretation. The higher the value (UPF or SPF) the longer a person can stay in the sun until the area of skin under the product (sunscreen lotion or fabric) becomes red. With a UPF or SPF value of 30, a person who can stay in sun 10 minutes until his/her skin just starts to get red, can stay in the sun 30 times longer. At the end of 300 minutes the amount of UV exposure is the same. It just took 30 times longer under the protection of fabric or sunscreen lotion. UPF and SPF are measures of sunburn protection because skin redness is the end point in determining the value.

When reading labels a claim can be made that the area of skin covered by the UV protective fabric is protected against sunburn. No claims are permitted about prevention of cancer, or reduced aging of the skin. Claims cannot be made that people with skin sensitized to solar radiation as a result of taking prescribed drugs are protected against skin flair-ups. 

What ever your interest in UV protective fabrics, you can be sure that a fabric that carries even a minimal UPF value will help you and your family feel safer when working or playing in the damaging rays of the sun.

(Sources: ASPA (American Sun Protection Association , ASTM Standardization News/ January 2001)

For more information on Weather or Not Fabrics

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