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9 expert-recommended spray sunscreens to protect against UV rays

Dermatologists explain the dos and don’ts of applying spray sunscreen, and how to buy the most effective options.
Spray sunscreen is as effective as its lotion, cream and gel counterparts if applied correctly, experts say.
Spray sunscreen is as effective as its lotion, cream and gel counterparts if applied correctly, experts say.Vivian Le / NBC

Dermatologists tell us that the best sunscreen is the one you’ll actually wear — and for many, that’s spray sunscreen. Adults and kids alike often find spraying SPF onto their skin simpler and more convenient than rubbing in a thick, white, creamy variation. And the good news is that spray sunscreen is just as effective as their lotion, cream and gel counterparts, says Dr. Michele Green, a board-certified dermatologist who practices in New York City. But in order to protect yourself from UV rays, you have to apply it correctly, which is easier said than done.

SKIP AHEAD The best spray sunscreens of 2023 | How to shop for spray sunscreen | How to apply spray sunscreen | What is benzene? | What is reef-safe sunscreen? | Can kids wear spray sunscreen? | Does spray sunscreen expire? | Is spray sunscreen FSA/HSA eligible?

We spoke to medical experts about the dos and don’ts of using spray sunscreen, as well as how to shop for it. We also gathered dermatologist-recommended options to purchase, in addition to Select staff favorites.

Our top picks

How we picked the best spray sunscreens

When shopping for spray sunscreen, dermatologists told us to make sure options meet the following criteria, which is in line with the American Academy of Dermatology’s recommendations:

  • Have an SPF of at least 30
  • Offers broad-spectrum protection, meaning the sunscreen shields the skin from UVA and UVB rays.

You’ll also need to decide if you want to purchase a chemical or mineral sunscreen. We explain more about the difference between the two types below and why you may choose one over the other, but Green says they both adequately protect the skin, so it’s entirely a personal preference. Additionally, if you plan to be in water or will be sweating while wearing spray sunscreen, be sure to choose an option labeled “water-resistant.”

The best spray sunscreens to protect skin

Below we rounded up expert-recommended and Select staff-favorite spray sunscreens that offer broad-spectrum protection and have an SPF of at least 30. We noted which ones are water-resistant, and whether each is a chemical or mineral sunscreen.

Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Body Mist

Neutrogena’s spray sunscreens are popular among our experts, and Green specifically likes the brand’s unscented Ultra Sheer option. “It seamlessly blends into skin without leaving a white cast and it does not feel greasy,” she says. The formula is also oil-free and non-comedogenic, which means it won’t clog pores and is suitable for those with acne-prone skin.

SPF rating: 30, 45 or 70 | Water- and sweat-resistance: 80 minutes | Sunscreen type: Chemical

Coppertone Pure and Simple Spray Sunscreen

Coppertone’s fragrance-free Pure and Simple Spray Sunscreen has a gentle, hypoallergenic formula, so it’s a great option for those with allergies and sensitive skin, Green says. The sunscreen contains zinc oxide as well as plant-derived ingredients like tea leaf extract, sea kelp extract and lotus extract to hydrate skin, according to the brand. You can also purchase this spray sunscreen in a kid’s version.

SPF rating: 50 | Water- and sweat-resistance: 80 minutes | Sunscreen type: Mineral

Sun Bum Mineral SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray

Many Select staff members say this Sun Bum spray sunscreen is their go-to option, and it’s also recommended by Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, a double board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon and the founder of DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa. The sunscreen’s unscented, zinc-based formula leaves a matte finish on the skin, and it’s made from a gluten-free, vegan and cruelty-free formula, according to the brand.

SPF rating: 30 | Water- and sweat-resistance: 80 minutes | Sunscreen type: Mineral

Coola Organic Mineral Sunscreen Spray SPF 30

When you spray Coola’s unscented sunscreen on the skin, it goes on white and dries sheer, leaving behind a matte finish, according to the brand. In addition to zinc oxide, the sunscreen contains antioxidants to help fight free-radical formation that can occur from sun exposure, DeRosa says. It comes in a non-aerosol can.

SPF rating: 30 | Water- and sweat-resistance: 80 minutes | Sunscreen type: Mineral

Banana Boat Ultra Sport SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray

I always have a bottle of Banana Boat’s Ultra Sport Sunscreen Spray at home and lather it on before I do outdoor activities like running. Its lightweight formula dries quickly and doesn’t leave my skin feeling greasy or sticky. The sunscreen’s scent is also not overbearing, which I appreciate as someone who is sensitive to fragrances.

SPF rating: 15, 30, 50 and 100 | Water- and sweat-resistance: 80 minutes | Sunscreen type: Chemical

Alba Botanica Hawaiian Coconut Sunscreen Spray

Shari Uyehara, Select’s manager of editorial operations, grew up in Hawaii and says she’s tried dozens of sunscreens over the years. Alba Botanica’s spray sunscreen is one of her favorites because it has a coconut scent she enjoys. The sunscreen is also made with ingredients like aloe vera, safflower oil and avocado oil to nourish skin, according to the brand.

SPF rating: 15, 30 or 50 | Water- and sweat-resistance: 80 minutes | Sunscreen type: Chemical

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Spray Sunscreen SPF 60

Select editor Lindsay Schneider has previously used La Roche-Posay sunscreen lotion, and the brand also offers a spray sunscreen that’s made with an unscented, oil-free, alcohol-free formula. It also contains thermal spring water, a soothing antioxidant, and is safe for sensitive skin, according to the brand.

SPF rating: 60 | Water- and sweat-resistance: 80 minutes | Sunscreen type: Chemical

Blue Lizard Sport Spray Sunscreen SPF 50+

Mikhaila Archer, an NBC page, says Blue Lizard sunscreens she’s used do not leave a gray cast on her darker skin, and they don’t irritate her sensitive skin. The brand’s zinc-based spray is made with moisturizing, nourishing antioxidants and plant-based ingredients, plus it’s fragrance-free. Blue Lizard also offers a spray sunscreen for kids.

SPF rating: 50 | Water- and sweat-resistance: 80 minutes | Sunscreen type: Mineral

Supergoop! 100% Mineral Body Mist SPF 30

DeRosa says Supergoop’s mineral spray sunscreen is a “fantastic, zinc-based spray” that also contains “soothing, hydrating ingredients, including aloe.” In her experience, it sprays on white but blends in sheer. The sunscreen is also safe for sensitive skin, according to the brand.

SPF rating: 30 | Water- and sweat-resistance: 80 minutes | Sunscreen type: Mineral

How to shop for spray sunscreen

Shopping for sunscreen — whether it’s spray, lotion, cream or gel — isn’t rocket science, but it can feel overwhelming. Dermatologists suggest thinking about the following, regardless of which formula you prefer.

What level of SPF should I use?

All the dermatologists we spoke to recommend wearing sunscreen that offers an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. “Going up to SPF 50 can add an additional layer of protection, but once you go above 50, the higher SPF ratings only offer marginal improvements,” says Dr. Corey L. Hartman, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama.

Most importantly, you need to apply enough sunscreen to fully cover your face and body. Otherwise, you’re not getting the maximum sun protection.But “we generally do not apply enough sunscreen to adequately achieve the SPF on the bottle,” says Dr. Eileen Deignan, board-certified dermatologist and the chief of dermatology at Emerson Hospital. And that’s especially the case for spray sunscreen — people tend to miss spots, resulting in patches of skin that go unprotected. Because of this, you might want to choose an SPF above 30 when buying spray sunscreen. “If you apply the same inadequate amount of SPF 30 and SPF 50, you will get better sun protection with the 50,” Deignan says.

Keep in mind applying sunscreen, which should be part of your daily skin care routine, is only one way that you can protect your skin from UV rays. Wearing UPF swimwear and clothing, sunglasses and hats act as physical sun blockers, and it’s important to seek shade when possible, Deignan says.

What does broad-spectrum SPF mean?

Buying broad-spectrum sunscreen is non-negotiable, dermatologists told us. When you see “broad-spectrum” printed on a bottle, it means the sunscreen protects skin from UVA and UVB rays, DeRosa says. UVA rays can cause signs of aging like loss of elasticity and wrinkles, while UVB rays can damage the skin's DNA, creating the inflammatory response that leads to sunburns or more severely, skin cancer.

What’s the difference between chemical and mineral sunscreen?

There are two types of sunscreen: chemical and mineral. Both provide equal amounts of protection, so choosing one is entirely a matter of personal preference.

  • Chemical sunscreen contains ingredients like avobenzone, benzophenone, oxybenzone, and octinoxate. These ingredients are absorbed into the skin and undergo chemical reactions to turn UV rays into heat, Green says. The heat then dissipates from the skin.
  • Mineral sunscreen (which is also sometimes referred to as physical sunscreen) contains ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These ingredients sit on top of skin and act like a shield against UV rays, Deignan says.

To decide whether you prefer chemical or mineral sunscreen, weigh the following pros and cons.

  • Application: Chemical sunscreens take about 20 to 30 minutes to fully absorb into the skin, so it takes time before you’re fully protected. On the other hand, mineral sunscreen offers immediate protection since it sits on top of the skin.
  • Sunscreen visibility: Mineral sunscreen tends to leave behind a white cast. If that’s something you’re hoping to avoid, chemical sunscreens may be a better option for you. However, some mineral spray sunscreens contain “micronized” or “nano-sized” zinc oxide or titanium dioxide — in other words, these ingredients are made up of teeny tiny particles — which helps to prevent the sunscreen from looking chalky or white, DeRosa says.
  • Skin type: If you have rosacea, acne-prone skin or sensitive skin, experts recommend opting for mineral sunscreen — it’s less likely to cause irritation since it’s not absorbed into the skin.

Is spray sunscreen actually water-resistant?

“Unfortunately, no sunscreen is truly waterproof,” Green says. That’s why most sunscreens are now labeled “water-resistant.” They contain ingredients like cetyl octanoate that allow the sunscreen to grip the skin and stay on after exposure to water. The sunscreen also becomes insoluble in water, she says.

Water-resistant sunscreen is only water-resistant for a limited period of time, so you have to be diligent about reapplication. Deignan recommends reapplying sunscreen at least every two hours if you’re sweating or exposed to water. If you’re toweling off, reapply more often since you’re literally wiping off the sunscreen.

How to apply spray sunscreen

“The efficacy of sunscreens, no matter the formulation, lies in the proper application,” Green says. And one of the biggest disadvantages of spray sunscreen is that it’s easy to apply incorrectly. To make sure you’re applying spray sunscreen the right way, we broke it down for you.

Spray sunscreen application: A step-by-step guide

  1. Hold the spray bottle’s nozzle about three to four inches away from your skin.
  2. Spray multiple passes across each part of your body – two to three times per arm and three to four times per leg is a good rule of thumb, Hartman says.
  3. Between each spray, rub the sunscreen into skin until it’s entirely blended in. “If you skip this step, the spray will only protect where it actually hits the skin,” deeming it ineffective for full-body protection, Hartman says.
  4. Spray sunscreen works best as a body sunscreen, experts told us. But if you want to use it as a face sunscreen, spray it into your hands first and rub it into your skin. Never spray sunscreen directly onto your face as you’ll risk inhaling it and getting it into your eyes, dermatologists told us.

Mistakes to avoid while applying spray sunscreen

“The biggest mistake that people make with spray sunscreen is that they don’t apply enough and spray too quickly, so they’re missing areas of skin during application,” DeRosa says. The solution? Apply a generous amount. A good rule of thumb is if you can’t see it in your skin after spraying, there’s probably not enough. You can (and should) apply multiple coats of spray sunscreen. “I suggest applying the spray, spreading it on the skin, and coming back 10 minutes later to reapply,” Deignan says.

It’s also important to avoid inhaling spray sunscreen or getting it in the eyes, nose or mouth, which can cause irritation. To make sure spray sunscreen actually reaches your body, hold the nozzle close enough to your skin, apply it slowly and don’t use it in windy conditions, Green says. And don’t forget about your ears, scalp, feet and hands.

When to reapply spray sunscreen

You need to constantly reapply all types of sunscreen regardless of whether you’re exposed to water. Reapply every two hours if you’re spending time outdoors or sitting next to a window, Hartman says. And if you’re swimming or sweating, reapply sunscreen every 80 minutes and after drying off, even if you’re using a water-resistant formula, DeRosa told us.

What is benzene? Is benzene in spray sunscreen?

In 2022, spray sunscreen made news after Johnson & Johnson recalled some of its products, which were found to contain trace amounts of benzene, a chemical byproduct of petroleum and oil production. Chronic exposure to benzene can lead to an increased risk of blood-based cancer, and short-term high exposure can lead to headaches and dizziness, Deignan says. But benzene is not a normal part of sunscreen production, and it ended up in a small batch of Johnson & Johnson’s spray sunscreen due to a manufacturing error, Deignan explained. Because of this, she says there’s no risk of being exposed to benzene through spray sunscreen and that it’s a safe product to use.

What is reef-safe sunscreen?

While there’s no standard or regulation behind the terms, “reef-safe” and “reef-friendly” are used to describe sunscreens that do not contain specific ingredients that have been found to potentially harm coral reefs and other marine life. Most reef-safe sunscreens are mineral-based and do not contain chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate. Reef-safe sunscreens also usually have micro-sized or non-nano particles — nanoparticles can be ingested by coral and negatively impact its health, according to the National Park Service. In 2021, a law went into effect that bans the sale of sunscreen containing these ingredients in Hawaii and Key West, Florida.

Can kids wear spray sunscreen?

Yes, kids can wear spray sunscreen, although they should not apply it themselves, dermatologists told us. It’s usually best for adults to spray sunscreen onto their hands and rub it into kids’ skin — if a child moves around while you’re spraying sunscreen directly onto their body, you’re likely to miss spots. When buying spray sunscreen for kids, look for formulas specifically designed for children, as they tend to have fewer irritants, fragrances and preservatives, Green says. DeRosa also recommends mineral sunscreens over chemical sunscreens for kids since “they sit on top of the skin and do not get absorbed into the bloodstream,” she says.

Does spray sunscreen expire?

Yes, like all types of sunscreen, spray sunscreen expires. There should be an expiration date printed on the bottle of spray sunscreen you purchase, per regulations set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, unless the manufacturer has done testing to show that the product will remain stable for at least three years. If there’s no expiration date listed on your sunscreen, it should be considered expired three years after purchase, according to the FDA. You should not use expired sunscreen since there’s no guarantee it’s effective.

Is spray sunscreen FSA/HSA eligible?

All types of broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher are eligible for reimbursement with flexible spending accounts (FSA), health savings accounts (HSA) and health reimbursement accounts (HRA). However, sunscreens are not eligible for reimbursement with dependent care flexible spending accounts and limited-purpose flexible spending accounts (LPFSA). To browse eligible products, you can visit the FSA Store or HSA Store.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Michele Green is a board-certified cosmetic dermatologist based in the Upper East Side of New York City.
  • Dr. Corey L. Hartman is a board-certified dermatologist and the founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, Alabama.
  • Dr. Jaimie DeRosa is a double board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon. She’s the founder and lead facial plastic surgeon at DeRosa Center Plastic Surgery & Med Spa in Boston and Palm Beach.
  • Dr. Eileen Deignan is a board-certified dermatologist and the chief of dermatology at Emerson Hospital. She practices medical dermatology at the Dermatology Associates of Concord.

Why trust Select?

Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor at Select who covers skin care topics like sunburns, tinted sunscreen, sunscreen for acne-prone skin and more. For this piece, she interviewed four experts to gather their shopping tips and product recommendations and researched spray sunscreen with their guidance in mind.

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