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Why Full Spectrum Sunscreen is Better Than Broad Spectrum

block all UV coverage

If you have read many of my sunscreen posts, you’ve likely noticed that I make a big distinction between broad spectrum and full spectrum sunscreen. But, you can’t go to the store and look for “full spectrum sunscreen”. Because I made that term up.**

Why full spectrum rather than broad spectrum UV coverage? When the FDA changed sunscreen labels, they cracked down on those companies that claim their product is broad spectrum, which didn’t actually mean anything.

Now, in order to claim a product is broad spectrum, there are criteria that need to be met. First, a product’s SPF is tested, for which only UVB coverage is measured. Next, based upon the SPF, a certain amount of coverage is needed at 370 nm, in the UVA I range. This sounds great, because it does mean that there’s some UVA coverage in addition to the UVB coverage. But, it also means that a product can be labelled as broad spectrum coverage without having any UVA II coverage. And there are quite a few products that are just like that!

The good news is that you can achieve full spectrum UV coverage if you check the ingredient lists. The bad news is that you need to check the ingredient list to find a full spectrum sunscreen.

Here are a few posts listing full spectrum sunscreens, all updated in 2018!
Full Spectrum Body Sunscreens
8 Full Spectrum Facial Sunscreens
Pregnancy Safe Full Spectrum Sunscreens
Pregnancy Safe Full Spectrum Facial Sunscreens, BB & CC Creams

Best Sunscreen Information
Find more information about how sunscreens work, application tips and product reviews in my sunscreen guide

** I did totally make this term up. If you’ve seen it anywhere else, I doubt others used it after me, probably I coincidentally thought of it at the same time as a much smart derm. Though for the record I first mentioned it (in a now-defunct post) in 2011, with the last major FDA change in Sunscreen Labelling.

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About Me

I’m a doctor, a mommy and a bit of a beauty addict. If you let me, I can take 2 hours to get ready in the morning. Really. I'm on a quest for faster beauty that works!

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  1. 7.15.21
    Charlene Ronquillo said:

    Could you please list the ingredients that are in a full spectrum sunscreen? Thanks.

    • 7.15.21
      Christine said:

      There are many combinations that would make full spectrum. You need to look at the ingredients and ensure you have coverage across the spectrum.

  2. 2.10.24
    Maria said:


    I would like to know if these sunscreens are pregnancy safe:

    PanOxyl AM Oil Control Moisturizer
    Active Ingredients: Zinc Oxide 17%
    Inactive Ingredients: Bisabolol, Butyloctyl Salicylate, C12-15 Alkyl Benzoate, Caffeine, Caprylyl Glycol, Ethylhexylglycerin, Glycerin, 1,2-Hexanediol, Hydroxyacetophenone, Hydroxyethyl Acrylate/Sodium Acryloyldimethyl Taurate Copolymer, Phenethyl Alcohol, Polyglyceryl-4 Laurate/Succinate, Polyhydroxystearic Acid, Polymethylsilsesquioxane, Polysorbate 60, Puried Water, Sodium Hyaluronate, Sodium Hydroxide, Sorbitan Isostearate, Sorbitan Monostearate, Tapioca Starch, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Xanthan Gum

    Avene Tinted Mineral Sunscreen Fluid Spf 50
    Active Ingredients: Titanium Dioxide (11.4%), Zinc Oxide (14.6%)
    Inactive Ingredients: Water, Coco-Caprylate/​Caprate, Isopropyl Palmitate, Isocetyl Stearoyl Stearate, Isodecyl Neopentanoate, Isododecane, Isohexadecane, PTFE, Triethylhexanoin, Dicaprylyl Ether, PEG-30 Dipolyhydroxystearate, Alumina, Stearic Acid, Caprylyl Glycol, PEG-45/​Dodecyl Glycol Copolymer, Silica, Benzoic Acid, Caprylic/​Capric Triglyceride, Disodium EDTA, Disteardimonium Hectorite, Glyceryl Behenate, Glyceryl Dibehenate, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Pentaerythrityl Tetra-Di-T-Butyl Hydroxyhydrocinnamate, Polyamide-3, Sodium Chloride, Tocopherol, Tocopheryl Glucoside, Tribehenin, Triethoxycaprylylsilane, Iron Oxide, Mica, Titanium Dioxide

    Thank you!!

    • 2.10.24
      Christine said:

      #1 has salicylate so is ok for nursing but not pregnancy
      #2 is ok for pregnancy and nursing