What Is Broad Spectrum?

Do you really know what it means when a sunscreen is broad spectrum? If you’ve ever been confused by the labels on sunscreens, you’re not alone. In fact, so many people were confused by label claims that in 2011, the FDA announced a long-awaited update to sunscreen labeling rules to simplify and regulate the industry. Even so, SPF 50 sunscreens that aren’t broad spectrum continue to trick consumers into believing they’re using a product with reasonable protection.

We’re here to help by spanning the spectrum of label claims! We believe it’s through education and creative solutions that our planet—and everyone on it—will flourish.

What is broad spectrum?

The sun emits solar energy from various regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. Ultraviolet rays are the ones that burn our skin, but visible light (the light that makes up a rainbow) and infrared light also shine onto our earth.[i]

Until recent years, sunscreens only protected against UVB rays, even though UVA rays cause premature skin aging and even skin cancer.[ii]

Enter the term “broad spectrum.” Only broad-spectrum sunscreens protect people from both UVB and UVA rays. And only sunscreens that say they are broad spectrum protect you from both aging and burning rays.

The effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays on skin

How is the broad-spectrum claim verified?

UVB radiation is already tested to verify a product’s SPF value, so experts assess UVA radiation to determine whether or not a product may be labeled as broad spectrum.

The SPF test requires testing the change in a subject’s protected and unprotected skin upon exposure to a solar simulator. The UVA test is very different. It’s called the Critical Wavelength test, and it is not conducted on people. Instead, an even layer of sunscreen is applied to a roughened PMMA (acrylic) plate and exposed to UV light. This test measures the percent of the total spectrum a product protects from by determining how much of the UVA/UVB light gets through. According to the FDA, sunscreens can be classified as “broad spectrum” only when their critical wavelength is longer than 370 nm.

Goddess Garden Sunscreen SPF Test results

Why is the broad-spectrum label important?

You wouldn’t want a sunscreen that prevents burning but leaves your skin at risk to aging and damaging rays. By using a broad-spectrum sunscreen, you can ensure you’re fully protected from burning, premature aging and skin damage. And rest assured, all Goddess Garden sunscreens are all broad spectrum so we’ve got you covered! Learn more about each test, and view our actual test results.


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[i] http://environ.andrew.cmu.edu/m3/s2/02sun.shtml
[ii] Holick, M. F., and Mark Jenkins. The UV Advantage. New York: I, 2003. 6.

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