Let’s face it, many claims on sunscreen labels these days are confusing and potentially misleading. If you’ve seen "broad spectrum" on sunscreen labels, but wonder what it actually means, you’ve come to the right place. In this post, we’ll discuss:
- What broad spectrum sunscreen means
- FDA’s blind spot regarding broad spectrum sunscreen
- The best (by far) broad spectrum sunscreen ingredient to look for
The official FDA definition of Broad Spectrum Sunscreen is, "The sunscreen can protect you from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.” In theory, it means the sunscreen covers the complete UV spectrum and protects both the skins surface and deeper skin tissues against UV rays from the sun.
The sun emits energy of various wavelengths that penetrate our Earth’s atmosphere. These include 2 types of ultraviolet light known as UVB rays, which mainly affect the skin’s surface (think B for Burn), and UVA rays, which penetrate to deeper skin layers where their effects can’t be seen directly (think A for Aging, including DNA damage and development of skin cancer).
In 2011, the FDA issued additional rules for sunscreen labeling, which required any sunscreen on the market to meet FDA standards for both UVB and UVA protection before it could use the term "broad spectrum" on the label.
A broad spectrum sunscreen technically means it should defend against both UVB and UVA rays. It’s important to note a product’s SPF relates ONLY to UVB rays, those affecting the surface. It has nothing to do with effectiveness against UVA rays, those which damage deeper tissues. The sun also emits UVC rays, which are absorbed by the ozone layer.
Remember: both UVA and UVB rays damage the skin’s DNA so genetic mutations occur, which leads to skin cancer.
The FDA Broad Spectrum Blind Spot
In 2011, the FDA began requiring broad spectrum sunscreens to meet minimum standards for both UVB and UVA protection. But although these standards include direct (in vivo) testing on human subjects for SPF, they allow for indirect (in vitro) testing of UVA coverage. And more importantly, within the UVA I range (340-400 nm) products must achieve ONLY 60% OF THE UVB COVERAGE, and within the UVA II range (320-340 nm), they need achieve ONLY 20% - to be labeled broad spectrum.
In other words, broad spectrum sunscreen products can defend the skin’s surface much better than deeper tissues. And almost all sunscreens use this blind spot to design relatively low-cost products that do just that. Typically, they use various UVB-heavy combinations of petrochemicals, along with anti-inflammatory substances to game the FDA’s test and achieve artificially high SPFs that better attract uninformed consumers.
Such consumers wrongly assume they’re fully protected (as their skin shows little to no change) while receiving significant deep-tissue damage, which begins to show itself in a person’s 40s and 50s, as dermatologists everywhere can attest, and as skin cancer rates continue to rise about 4% annually (even after the above FDA rules began), while the population 65 and older increases at only 1.5% per year.
Translation? Common sunscreens, made with cheap petrochemicals and fortified with anti-inflammatories that protect much better at the skin’s surface than they protect deep skin tissues, are a driving force in the ongoing skin cancer explosion.
The Answer: Zinc Oxide Sunscreen
Non nano zinc oxide provides excellent protection against both UVA and UVB rays and is simply the best active sunscreen ingredient in the industry today.
Zinc oxide is simply THE best active sunscreen ingredient, and by a wide margin. Covering the entire UVA/UVB spectrum by itself, it has the most consistently effective absorption capabilities, which never degrade. In contrast, petrochemical sunscreens need multiple active ingredients for complete coverage, which degrades quickly on the shelf. Even mineral sunscreens using titanium dioxide needs significant help (usually from zinc oxide) to cover a large portion of the UVA spectrum range.
Note: In basic terms, UVB rays affect the skin’s surface (remember B for Burn) while UVA rays affect deeper tissues (remember A for Aging).
And unlike many other brands, Waxhead products offer true broad spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays equally well, because zinc oxide, our sole active ingredient, covers all parts of the UV spectrum equally.
There are no other known ingredient that does, including titanium dioxide, which misses fully half of the UVA portion, and all petrochemicals, which must be cobbled together to cover various separate spectrum portions, with disastrous results to long term user health.
1. Know your ingredients — Flip over your sunscreen and read the ingredients. We want everyone to know what good ingredients are, regardless of whether they use our products or not. Your health is worth it.
2. Buy safe sunscreen — Waxhead is dedicated to using only the healthiest, safest, most effective ingredients in our sunscreens. Shop Safe Sunscreen here.
3. Teach a friend — If you know someone who might still be buying sunscreen with questionable ingredients, please share this post with him/her.