Is Spray Sunscreen Bad for You? A Dermatologist Weighs In
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If there's one thing dermatologists want you to know, it's that you should wear sunscreen every day. That's right: Sunscreen isn't just for the dead of summer or when you're on a tropical vacation — it's a must for all seasons to protect your skin from UV damage.
Applying sunscreen daily can seem like a chore, though. Which is why spray sunscreen may seem like a quicker, more convenient option.
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But is spray sunscreen effective? And is it safe?
Here, we spoke to dermatologists to find out if spray sunscreen is good or bad and how it compares to tried-and-true sunscreen lotion.
Spray sunscreens are formulated with the same active ingredients as sunscreen lotions, so they work the same way in theory, says Brooke Jeffy, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Scottsdale, Arizona. But their effectiveness ultimately depends on whether they're used correctly.
"Spray sunscreen is just as effective as sunscreen lotion when it comes to the advertised SPF," says Jill Salyards, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Knoxville, Tennessee. "However, common application mistakes may make it less effective."
These mistakes include:
If you don't realize you're making these mistakes, you might have a false sense of security while you're out in the sun, which can easily lead to sunburn and skin damage.
There are some concerns around the inhalation of spray sunscreen, which hasn't been adequately studied, reports a December 2020 review in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Ingredients used in sunscreen are safe when applied topically, but they're not meant to be inhaled. "There is a possibility of lung irritation, which may trigger allergies or asthma," Dr. Salyards says. "Titanium dioxide specifically may be toxic when inhaled."
For this reason, it's not recommended to spray sunscreen directly on your face.
A recent recall on sunscreens contaminated with benzene has also left some people wary about sunscreen safety. Benzene is a chemical and known carcinogen (i.e., it's capable of causing cancer) linked to leukemia and other blood disorders, per the FDA.
"While benzene has been found in some spray sunscreens and there is no safe level of benzene, it is unlikely that occasional use would adversely affect health," Dr. Jeffy says.
More than 75 sun protection and after-sun care products were recalled due to benzene contamination, and many of them were spray-style sunscreens, reports the Cleveland Clinic. For now, their suggestion is to opt for sunscreen lotion over sunscreen sprays when possible.
"I would certainly not reach for a product known to have benzene," adds Dr. Jeffy.
Valisure, an independent laboratory, released a list of benzene-contaminated products.
Spray sunscreen can be a convenient choice, and it's better than not wearing sunscreen at all. The AAD recommends the following tips to safely apply spray sunscreen:
Dr. Salyards recommends looking for the following:
Here are a few spray sunscreens that meet that criteria:
Dermatologists have concerns about spray sunscreen. "Spray sunscreen is not my first recommendation," says Dr. Jeffy.
It's often used incorrectly, and the risks of inhaling it are still not fully understood, which is why sunscreen lotion may be a better choice.
But using spray sunscreen is definitely better than no sunscreen at all, Dr. Salyards says. Just apply it carefully to avoid the potential risks, and make sure to choose a benzene-free product.
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