What Is Broad Spectrum Sunscreen? Here’s Everything You Need to Know
Protecting your skin from UV rays is crucial for maintaining healthy, youthful-looking skin, as well as preventing skin cancer. As a result, daily sunscreen use is essential. But with so many different types of sunscreen available today, it can be challenging to determine which one is right for you. In fact, you’ve probably come across the term “Broad Spectrum” a number of times when shopping for sunscreen—but what exactly does it mean? Here, we dive into the term and explore what makes it such a vital part of your sun protection strategy.
Broad Spectrum Sunscreen 101
First, what exactly is Broad Spectrum sunscreen? By its very definition, it’s a type of sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and can cause premature aging (think: wrinkles, sun spots and other discolorations), while UVB rays are known to impact the more superficial surface layers of the skin. However, both UVA and UVB rays can contribute to your risk of skin cancer. We’ve explained the UV index in much greater detail in the past, but there’s actually a pretty simple way to remember which is which:
- UVA includes the letter A for aging
- UVB includes the letter B for burning
The fact is that a sunscreen that only protects against UVB rays is not enough to keep your skin safe from sun damage, particularly in the long run. That's why a Broad Spectrum formula can be an excellent choice for both short- and long-term sun protection.
Are All Sunscreens Broad Spectrum?
In a word: nope! Remember that not all sunscreens are created equal. Some only protect against UVB rays, which help to prevent burns on the outermost layers of the skin. When shopping for sunscreen, if your goal is to ensure you’re protecting your skin against both UVA and UVB rays, it's important to look for the words "Broad Spectrum" on the label—or you can easily select from any of our Broad Spectrum sunscreen formulas on our site.
What Is the SPF for Broad Spectrum Sunscreen?
First, let’s revisit what SPF really means. This widely used (but often misunderstood) acronym is short for Sun Protection Factor, and it’s a way of measuring the amount of solar energy that’s needed for protected skin to experience a sunburn. In short, the number can help an individual to calculate his or her own risk of sunburn, as compared to not wearing sunscreen at all.
It’s important to note that this number does not correlate to an amount of time, which is a common misconception. For example, an SPF 30 does not mean 30 minutes of protection—rather, it means that you can reasonably expect that by wearing it, you would be protected by a factor of 30 versus not wearing any sunscreen.
So, as far as how SPF relates to Broad Spectrum protection? This kind of sun care can come in a variety of SPF levels, technically ranging from SPF 15 to 100, with higher SPF numbers indicating greater protection from UV radiation. This means it’s possible to find Broad Spectrum protection in precisely your desired SPF.
How Do I Know If I’m Using Broad Spectrum Sunscreen?
The easiest way to be certain you’re using a Broad Spectrum sunscreen is to look for those very words on the label! A true Broad Spectrum sunscreen will say so right on the packaging. Beyond that, you can also double check the active ingredients listed on the back of the label to ensure they include both UVA and UVB filters. Here’s a deeper dive into sunscreen ingredients to help you understand what’s what.
Broad Spectrum Benefits
The benefits of Broad Spectrum sunscreen are clear from its very purpose: it provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays, reducing your risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer all in one product. In fact, a Broad Spectrum formula is the best way to ensure that your skin is fully protected.
More specifically, Broad Spectrum sunscreen:
- Provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays
- Reduces the risk of sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer
- Can help to prevent skin discoloration caused by sun exposure, such as dark spots and hyperpigmentation
- Is suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin
- Can come in any SPF between 15 and 100
- Can come in mineral and non-mineral formulas
- Can be used on both the face and body
Where Does Mineral vs. Non-Mineral Fit In?
Recently, we wrote about mineral sunscreen—what it is, and how it works differently from other sunscreen formulas. Essentially, traditional non-mineral sunscreens use chemicals to absorb and filter out the sun’s rays, while mineral sunscreens use the ingredients Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide to block the sun's rays by both absorbing and reflecting them. Broad Spectrum sunscreen can come in both mineral and non-mineral forms—meaning even those with sensitive or oily skin can benefit from Broad Spectrum protection by opting for a mineral formulation.
Is Broad Spectrum Safe for Sensitive Skin?
Broad Spectrum sunscreen is generally considered safe for even sensitive skin, but it's important to choose the right type of sunscreen formula to avoid irritation. Some people with sensitive skin may prefer mineral-based Broad Spectrum sunscreens, as they are less likely to cause skin irritation when compared to traditional formulas. However, everyone's skin is different, so it may be helpful to do a “patch test” when trying a new sunscreen to see how your skin reacts, or to consult with your dermatologist if you have any specific concerns.
Does Broad Spectrum Mean It’s Water Resistant?
Not necessarily! Some Broad Spectrum sunscreens do come in water-resistant formulas, but others do not. It’s important to check the specific packaging to be sure. If you’re looking for both, this means a sunscreen should not only be labeled as Broad Spectrum, but it should also clearly list a water resistance time—such as “Water Resistant (80 minutes)”—right on the front of the packaging.
And remember, even with water-resistant formulas, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, or even more often if you are swimming or sweating.
Other Broad Spectrum Considerations
Remember that not all Broad Spectrum sunscreens are created equal. Depending on the specific SPF level you choose, your protection against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays can vary. Generally, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using an SPF of 30 or higher, as well as a Broad Spectrum formula, for the greatest protection against the sun’s rays.