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Definition of Sun protection factor (SPF)

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Sun protection factor (SPF): A number on a scale for rating the degree of protection provided by sunscreens. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor.

SPF numbers on a package can range from as low as 2 to as high as 100. These numbers refer to the product's ability to screen or block out the sun's burning rays. It is a common mistake to assume that the duration of effectiveness of a sunscreen can be calculated simply by multiplying the SPF by the length of time it takes for him or her to suffer a burn without sunscreen, because the amount of sun exposure a person receives is dependent upon more than just the length of time spent in the sun. The amount of sun exposure depends upon a number of factors including the length of exposure, time of day, geographic location, and weather conditions.

Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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