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.
** 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.