I went to the drugstore to pick up some sunscreen and the endless shelves of bottles is astounding. Have you ever thought, "What's with all the different SPF numbers?" If you're confused by what the numbers mean and how you choose the right one for your skin type, you're not alone.
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For starters, SPF stands for sun protection factor. The numbers don't refer to how long you can spend outside without getting a sunburn, they refer to the amount of UVB protection the product offers. Sunscreens with SPF 15 filter out 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 filters out 97 percent, SPF 50 blocks 98 percent, and SPF 100 blocks 99 percent of UVB rays.
The thing is, wearing a sunscreen with a higher number won't allow you to stay out longer, since the effectiveness of sunscreen decreases over time. Plus if you're active, either swimming or sweating in the sun, the moisture can wash sunscreen away, leaving your skin less protected. So choose a sunscreen with at least an SPF 15. If you have fair skin that burns easily, choose a higher SPF. Since UVA rays lead to wrinkling and sun spots, you want to make sure the bottle also says it's a broad-spectrum sunscreen, meaning it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply sunscreen every two hours — don't wait to see if your skin is turning red before reapplying since a sunburn may take up to 24 hours to appear fully.