UPF protection ratings for apparel and accessories

We all know about SPF ratings for sunscreen. But what is a UPF rating for clothing?

  • SPF - is used to rate sunscreens only.
  • UPF - is used to rate apparel & textiles only.

Even as this niche market exploded, there still were no industry standards to verify a company’s claim that their products could actually block UV rays.

Again we go back to Australia: In 1992, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) developed a system to test garments claiming to be sun-protective.

This system rated apparel and textiles according to UPF-Ultraviolet Protection Factor.

This system is very similar to the SPF rating system.

In 1998, the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) adopted this system for use in the United States. Shorty afterwards, the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) expanded testing to include a garment’s life cycle and for labeling a garment’s sun-protectiveness.

The following tests are used to determine apparel and textiles protection levels:

AATCC Test Method 183:

  • This is the standard used to determine the protection rating for a fabric or textile
  • It rates the amount of UVA and UVB that is blocked by the fabric
  • The amount of UV rays blocked or absorbed is determined by a machine in a laboratory
  • A rating is based on the ratio of UV protection of a fabric compared to protection without the fabric

For example, if a fabric or garment is rated UPF 30, it means that it is blocking or absorbing 29 out of 30 units of both UVA and UVB, or blocking 97% of all UV rays.

ASTM D 6544:

  • This is the standard used to determine a product’s sun protectiveness at the end of its life cycle
  • Garments and textiles are tested and rated after 40 home launderings (wash and dry)
  • Garments and textiles are tested and rated after 100 hours of continuous UV exposure

Hangtag UPF Guidelines

ASTM D 6603:

  • Based on the above tests results, ASTM D 6603 is the standard used to describe how a garment or fabric is labeled
  • This labeling provides a uniform system on UV-protective textiles and clothing
  • The ratings between 15 – 50+ inform consumers about the amount of UV-protection provided
  • The numerical value placed on a garment’s label is the lowest protection value expected during normal use over a two-year period

Sunscreens are regulated by the FDA – “Sun-protective” apparel is NOT

Clothing and accessories that are labeled “sun-protective” should have a numerical value between 15 to 50. No clothing item with an Ultraviolet Protection of less than 15 can be labeled “sun-protective”.

As stated above, there are no FDA regulations for sun-protective clothing, textiles or accessories. However, all advertising claims are carefully regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Sun-protective clothing and textile manufacturers are currently a self regulated industry in the United States. However if a manufacturer adds a hangtag with a UPF 15-50+ rating to any product, it must adhere to the testing standards outlined above.

So as you shop for apparel, textiles, accessories or swimwear – look for a hangtag indicating its protection value. If it has a hangtag, you can be pretty much assured it has been tested under the methods listed.

Return to Sun-Protective clothing now that you know all about UPF protection.

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