SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and measures protection against UVB rays (think "burning" rays). This is a rating that is calculated in a lab setting to measure how long you can be exposed to UV rays before getting sunburned. It's important to remember that the SPF rating is obtained via a very exact testing protocol in a lab setting and the level of protection can vary when you don't apply enough product. The key is to apply generously and evenly to ensure the maximum level of protection. It's also important to reapply sunscreen every two hours!
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