There are many types of sunscreen: mineral, chemical, tinted, non-tinted, water-resistant, and more. Among those common labels, you're sure to see the term "bro." When choosing the right sunscreen for you, broad-spectrum protection is something to consider. But what is broad-spectrum sunscreen?

If you're wondering about the meaning and benefits of this important quality, you're not alone. A study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology revealed that only 39 percent of consumers considered broad-spectrum protection as an influencing factor in their decisions when purchasing sunscreen.

Here is the explanation behind broad-spectrum protection and why it should influence your skin care choices.

What Is Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen?

While some cosmetic labels are unregulated, all products that claim to provide "broad-spectrum protection" must abide by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations for sunscreen drug products. There is even a test to confirm whether a sunscreen is, in fact, broad-spectrum seeing as the label carries such weight.

Bro Meaning

The FDA defines "broad-spectrum" as providing protection from both types of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) light: UVA and UVB rays. Because SPF values only refer to a sunscreen's protection against UVB rays, it is important to indicate whether a sunscreen also protects against UVA rays. If a sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays, then it is considered a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

UVA vs. UVB Rays

UV radiation, which is a form of electromagnetic energy, is known to harm the skin. There are two main types of UV radiation, and they're classified by wavelengths:

  • UVA rays, which have a longer wavelength, can penetrate glass windows and clouds, and they account for 95 percent of UV rays on Earth. This is also the type of radiation used in tanning beds. During daylight hours, the intensity of UVA rays does not fluctuate throughout the year, making them a cause for concern regardless of the season or weather.
  • UVB rays, which have a shorter wavelength, are slightly more intense than UVA rays, but they don't penetrate the skin as deeply. They also don't penetrate through glass windows. Unlike UVA rays, the intensity of UVB rays fluctuates throughout the year. They are strongest when the sun is at its peak during the day from spring to fall. Their effects are heightened at high altitudes or when reflected off surfaces, like snow.

The Importance of Broad-Spectrum Protection

According to Mayo Clinic, optimal sunscreen protection guards against both UVA and UVB light, given that they can damage the skin in different ways (although both are linked to skin cancer). While UVA rays can cause wrinkles, sun spots, and other signs of premature aging, UVB rays cause skin darkening and sunburns. An easy way to remember this is "A is for aging, B is for Burning."

Dermatologists recommended applying broad-spectrum sunscreen daily as a preventative measure. Without this added protection guaranteed by an FDA certification, a sunscreen may only safeguard against UVB rays. This can leave your skin vulnerable to premature aging and an increased risk of skin cancer.

Choosing a Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen

The FDA isn't alone in its recommendation when choosing sunscreen products. The Skin Cancer Foundation also recommends broad-spectrum sunscreen, seeing as both UVA and UVB rays have been known to increase the risk of cancer. The American Academy of Dermatology also advocates for broad-spectrum sunscreen for maximum protection from the sun's damaging rays.

Because of this, all EltaMD sun care products offer broad-spectrum protection. EltaMD UV Clear Tinted Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 is a facial sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays while offering a hint of color. For the body, EltaMD UV Sport Broad-Spectrum SPF 50 offers ample protection, especially for swimmers and athletes as it's water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.

There's a lot to consider when selecting the right sunscreen for you. Whatever you choose, ensure that it has "bro" on its label so you're fully protected.


  • Lacey Muinos

    Lacey is a Southern California-based freelance writer who combines her passions—fitness, health, and a vegan lifestyle—with her work to help readers feel and be their best. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Livestrong, Verywell Fit, Eat This Not That, KinderBeauty, and more.

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