The Scary Truth About Spray-On Sunscreens

Rachel Krause
webphotographeer/iStock/Getty Images

webphotographeer/iStock/Getty Images

Sunscreen is beyond annoying to apply, but it’s a necessary (not so) evil for protecting your skin from both premature aging and serious health risks. It’s nigh impossible to cover your whole body singlehandedly, almost always requiring a friend for assistance, and it’s slippery and generally unpleasant in texture, making you that much more likely to get sand stuck all over your legs.

It’s no wonder why, upon hitting the market, aerosol spray sunscreen became the must-have thing to toss in your beach bag and survive sunny days unscathed. But in the past few years, quite a few concerns have arisen on the subject. Does it really protect the skin as well as thicker lotion sunscreens? Is it even safe to be breathing in those kinds of ingredients? We did a little research in pursuit of the answer to whether spray sunscreen is even safe, and the results aren’t reassuring.

Spray sunscreen may not provide sufficient coverage.
Think about the way you apply cream sunscreens versus how you apply sprays: Sprays go on in a fine mist that covers large areas, whereas with lotions, you’re using large quantities that you rub into your skin. Not only are you more inclined to apply less sunscreen when you’re using a spray, but that fine mist doesn’t always do much to protect your skin properly unless you’re extra diligent about making sure every area gets covered fully (and, for that matter, avoiding the wind). The only way to really ensure that happens is by spraying the sunscreen onto your hands and then using your hands to apply, which defeats the purpose of using a spray in the first place.

It may not be safe for children.
As with everything that you spray in your close vicinity, you’re inhaling whatever ingredients you’re spraying out. Breathing in the chemical components of sunscreens, like oxybenzone, in aerosol form could very well be toxic—and yes, that even applies to mineral sunscreen ingredients like titanium dioxide.

In fact, titanium dioxide could be more dangerous than other chemical ingredients in non-mineral sunscreens: a 2006 report from the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens dictates that titanium dioxide is possibly carcinogenic to humans when inhaled. This kind of information led Consumer Reports to strongly discourage using spray sunscreen on children, who are more likely to inhale the spray.

It’s potentially flammable.
Aerosol cans are flammable, and with summer activities running the gamut from campfires to barbecues, there are far too many opportunities to be exposed to open flames. In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration documented five separate incidents wherein people wearing spray-on sunscreen near sources of flame incurred serious burns that required medical treatment. That’s really, really scary.

So next time you hit the beach (and we do hope that’ll be sometime soon), you may want to seriously consider switching out your spray sunscreen for something a little less convenient and a little more, well, safe.

Read more from Daily Makeover: Why You Should Always Use a Hair Sunscreen