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UV, UPF, And SPF…. What’s The Diff?

An illustration showing the difference between UVA and UVB sun rays on skin.

Do you know the difference between UV, UPF, and SPF?

Does it really matter? There is a difference, and yes, it matters. But understanding them is easier than you think.

 UV = Ultraviolet

UV is short for “ultraviolet,” as in ultraviolet rays. There are three types of UV rays:

  • UVA rays, which cause wrinkling and premature aging.
  • UVB rays, which cause sunburn and cataracts.
  • UVC rays, which are the strongest, but are blocked from earth by the ozone layer.

Here’s the main thing: both UVA and UVB rays are dangerous and can cause skin cancer. Kids and adults need protection from both.

UPF = Ultraviolet Protection Factor

UPF stands for “Ultraviolet Protection Factor.” UPF is a universal rating system that measures the sun-blocking effectiveness of clothing and other fabric-made gear. UPF clothing (also referred to as “UV clothing”) is specially designed to screen out both UVA and UVB rays.

There are three UPF categories under the U.S. ratings system:









These numbers refer to the percentage of UV rays that penetrate the fabric and reach the skin. When shopping for kids sun protection clothing, the higher the better.

By the way, all of our Sun Smarties™ kids UV clothing and gear are UPF 50+. This means that only 1/50th of UV rays shining on the fabric ever reach your child’s skin. The remaining 49/50ths (or 98%) of UV rays are blocked. It’s the highest level of UV protection available.

SPF = Sun Protection Factor

SPF is an abbreviation for “Sun Protection Factor.” While the UPF scale applies to fabrics, SPF is the rating system used to categorize sunscreens and sunblocking lotions.

Technically, SPF measures the amount of time it takes UVB rays to redden exposed skin. So while you’ve probably heard people use the term “SPF clothing,” it’s not really accurate. What they really mean is UV or UPF clothing.

Now that you know what it means, check out our entire collection of Sun SmartiesTM kids UV clothing and gear. Remember it’s all UPF 50+, and that = “Excellent.”

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Published on Feb 12 2016

Last Updated on Sep 16 2021

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