What Is Broad Spectrum Sunscreen?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. One in five Americans develops skin cancer by the age of 70. About 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This means that wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen can help reduce your risk for skin cancer.

What are UV rays?

The sun produces different types, or wavelengths, of ultraviolet radiation.

UVC is the shortest wavelength and most damaging type of UV radiation. UVC rays are filtered out by the earth’s atmosphere.

UVB radiation has a medium wavelength. These rays make it through the atmosphere, and are associated with skin burning.

UVA rays have are the longest wavelength of the three, and make up 95 percent of UV radiation on the Earth’s surface. These UV rays penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays, and are associated with skin aging. 

Both UVA and UVB radiation contribute to skin cancer.

Broad spectrum sunscreen offers protection from both UV rays

A broad spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. Broad spectrum sunscreens have become standard in recent years, and they are widely available. Most stores carry them; just make sure that your bottle or tube of sunscreen says “broad spectrum” on it.

It’s time to get rid of that expired bottle of UVA sunscreen in your closet. Sunscreen typically stays effective for three years.

Choosing and using sunscreen

Choose a broad spectrum sunscreen — one that protects against UVA and UVB radiation. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 30 if you are spending an extended period of time in the sun. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends SPF 15 for regular daily use, and SPF 30 or higher for a day outdoors.

Here are some other tips for using sunscreen:

  • Shake your sunscreen before applying it.
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before heading outdoors.
  • Always reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours, or when you get out of the water. This is true no matter what SPF you use.
  • People who burn more easily should reapply more often.

Don’t rely solely on your sunscreen:

  • Get out of the sun; go indoors or find shade to reduce sun exposure.
  • Wear protective clothing  — long, loose-fitting clothing that covers the skin.
  • Wear hats, sunglasses, and SPF lip balm to protect the parts of your body (scalp, eyes, lips, etc.) that sunscreen can’t cover.

Wearing sunscreen can help lower your risk for skin cancer, it helps keep your skin healthy, and it helps prevent painful burns.

Maybe you don’t like the way sunscreen feels or the way it smells. Maybe you’re more likely to use sunscreen in a spray bottle than in a lotion bottle. Make sure that you find a sunscreen that you like and that you will wear.

The best sunscreen is one that you actually use.