When purchasing work clothes, you’ve likely seen a UPF rating, particularly on work shirts. These UPF ratings are important, especially for those working outside for long periods of time. Clothing has the ability to absorb or block harmful UV radiation and forms just one layer of protection against sun damage and skin cancer.
UPF, or the Ultraviolet Protection Factor, indicates how much UV radiation a particular fabric allows through to the skin. The UPF covers both UVB and UVA, and the higher the UPF factor, the better sun protection your clothing offers. UPF 50+ fabric blocks 98% of the sun’s rays, which is quite a significant amount for those who spend a lot of time working outdoors.
What’s the Difference Between UPF and SPF?
If you wear sunscreen daily, which you should be if you are spending time in the sun, you’ll notice that your sunscreen has an SPF rating – or a Sun Protection Factor. So what’s the difference between a UPF and an SPF?
Essentially UPF measures the radiation amount that can penetrate the fabric and reach your skin; SPF, on the other hand, is the time it takes for UV-exposed skin to start to burn. Now the time it takes can vary for different people, but let’s say that if your skin starts to burn after 20 minutes in the sun unprotected, an SPF 15+ sunscreen if used correctly, may give you protection from the sun for 15 times longer.
Combine a high quality, high SPF sunscreen with high-quality high UPF work clothes, and you’ll have much better protection from the sun than by just using one of those options.
Do My Clothes Really Offer Sun Protection?
All clothing provides some level of protection from the sun, but they don’t all provide equal protection; for example, a tank top and a pair of thigh-length shorts are going to provide far less protection when compared to a sleeved shirt and a knee-length pair of shorts. A basic cotton shirt provides a UPF of 5 – so 95% of the UV is able to penetrate the fabric.
What’s the difference between UPF rated clothing and normal fabric? Most of our day to day wear is a loose weave where visible light can penetrate and get through to our skin. UPF rated clothing, on the other hand, tends to have a different weave and is generally made from a different fabric.
What Should I look For When Purchasing UPF Rated Workwear?
There are a few things you can look for when purchasing workwear to provide you with a higher level of protection:
Colour – dark or bright colours help to keep UV rays from reaching your skin. These colours tend to absorb the UV rays rather than letting them penetrate as lighter shades do.
Fabric Construction – Clothing that is made from a densely woven fabric like denim, canvas, wool or synthetic fibres provide far more protection than thin and loosely woven fabrics. You can easily check whether UV radiation can filter through – hold your shirt up to the light’ if you can see through it, UV radiation can easily get through.
UPF Rating – Most work clothing on the market has a UPF rating which indicates how much UV the item of clothing can protect. The higher the UPF rating, the better the sun protection.
Coverage – Clothing that covers more of your body offers more protection. Depending on what you are doing, choosing long-sleeved shirts and long pants will offer you a greater level of protection. Can’t work in longer gear? Make sure you team your clothing up with a high rated SPF sunscreen.
When purchasing UPF rated workwear you also need to be aware that if your clothing gets stretched or becomes wet, it will lose some of the protective factors. Always combine your workwear with a high SPF sunscreen, hat and sunglasses where possible to get the best possible sun protection.