There are safer options than spraying. (Photo: Getty)
Especially if you have kids, sunscreen sprays seem like a very good idea in theory. You can get squirmy little ones protected from the sun STAT, and they are so simple to apply that even little kids can do it themselves. With a faster and easier application than lotions it’s no wonder that they make up a big portion of the sunscreen market. Except, there’s a problem—spray sunscreens may not be safe.
“We don’t recommend that consumers use these products,” explains Environmental Working Group’s Senior Scientist Dave Andrews. “There are inhalation concerns as you are breathing in these sunscreen ingredients when you apply them, and it’s difficult to get an adequate coating on your skin to even verify that people are applying an adequate amount.” Manhattan dermatologist Dr. Macrene Alexiades-Armenakas agrees with the concerns: “[These types of sunscreens] are manufactured with phthalates, which is worrisome. They can get into your lungs.”
The Food and Drug Administration has been delving into the safety of spray sunscreens since 2011, honing in on the two major concerns. They are looking into whether unintentionally breathing in sunscreens in aerosol form could be toxic. They are also focusing on whether sprays provide enough of the product to protect your skin from the sun. An FDA spokesperson confirmed that they are currently working on additional research, and they didn’t point to an end date: “The agency requested additional data to establish effectiveness and to determine whether they present a safety concern if inhaled unintentionally.”
As a result of the concerns, in 2014 Consumer Reports recommended that spray sunscreens not be used on children. “Until the Food and Drug Administration completes an analysis it began in 2011 on the potential risks of spray sunscreens, our advice is that the products should generally not be used by or on children.” They suggest only using the products on children “ unless you have no other product available. In that case, spray the sunscreen onto your hands and rub it on. As with all sunscreens, be especially careful on the face, avoiding the eyes and mouth.”
There is also the issue of certain types of ingredients posing increased risk in aerosol form. While mineral blockers are often considered a good alternative to chemical sunscreens, it turns out that’s not the case with spray sunscreens. If your spray sunscreen contains titanium dioxide, don’t use it. In a 2006 report from the International Agency for Research on Carcinogens, found that titanium dioxide is “possibly carcinogenic to humans when inhaled which the EWG explores in their report on nanoparticles: “The lungs have difficulty clearing small particles, and the particles may pass from the lungs into the bloodstream. Insoluble nanoparticles that penetrate skin or lung tissue can cause extensive organ damage.” It’s all incredibly alarming. With all these concerns, and tests ongoing, maybe reaching for the lotion, even though it takes a little bit longer, might be the way to go this summer.