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Once you've got the right ingredients, the sun protection factor measures how much of a shield you'll get from burning UVB rays. For example, if you'd normally burn in 10 minutes, an SPF of 15 will (ideally) stretch that out to 150 minutes. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen that's broad spectrum and has an SPF of at least 30 every single day. In summer, when the sun's rays are strongest, it's especially important to follow that recommendation diligently, even if you think you're not getting that much exposure. Remember, UV rays penetrate clouds and UVA gets through window glass. Think 30s and higher are sticky or hard to apply? Lots of newer products go on silky smooth and dry and are easier than ever to wear under makeup or all over on beach days. Many work well for your face and your body. The key is to find a product that you like and make it a daily habit.
When to Go Higher
When you're going to be outside all day long it can't hurt to go higher than SPF 30, since you'll need all the coverage you can get. Bear in mind that reflected UV is just as powerful as direct UV, and being near sand, water and snow (even concrete) can really increase exposure. The higher numbers don't let you off the hook for reapplying sunscreen -- they wear off when you swim or sweat just like the others.
Can I Still Use My SPF 15?
You may be able to get away with SPF 15 in fall, winter, and spring when you're just commuting to work or running quick errands (make sure the product hasn't expired). But if you're doing yard work, biking, or playing with the kids outdoors, you need to ramp it up. Our advice? Why not keep the 30-plus habit going all year round?