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Spray sunscreen 101: How to use and shop for spray sunscreens

Dermatologists weigh in on the efficacy of spray sunscreens and offer advice on how to shop for them this summer.
Top-rated spray sunscreens include options from Coola, Banana Boat, Supergoop! and more.
Top-rated spray sunscreens include options from Coola, Banana Boat, Supergoop! and more.SuperGoop ; Amazon

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All the doctors we spoke to emphasized how important it is to wear sunscreen. Dr. Michele Green, cosmetic dermatologist, said it’s essential whether you have a lighter or darker skin tone, and Dr. Jaimie DeRosa, a board-certified plastic and reconstructive surgeon, mentioned you should be wearing it every day, rain or shine. Board-certified dermatologist Dr. Eileen Deignan added you should supplement your sunscreen with physical blockers like UPF hats and UPF clothing. They all warned how sun damage can lead to painful sunburns, aging and skin cancer.

SKIP AHEAD What is benzene? | Is spray sunscreen effective? | How to apply spray sunscreen

While medical experts have all lauded various types of sunscreen throughout our skin care coverage (spray, mineral-based, for acne-prone skin and for kids, to name a few), the best sunscreen will always be whatever kind it is that you enjoy using most. As long as it contains at least SPF 30 for adequate protection, with a label that reads “broad spectrum” to ensure protection from both UVA and UVB rays, you can’t go wrong, Green told me.

If you’re interested in learning more about spray sunscreen — probably the easiest of all the sunscreens to apply — we spoke to three different doctors about spray sunscreen, why it’s so popular and what else you should look for in your next sunscreen purchase (besides its SPF and broad spectrum rating).

Top-rated spray sunscreens

Many people use spray sunscreen to protect their skin from the sun’s UV rays. The experts we spoke to agreed that it stood out because it’s easy to apply: “With one mist, [spray sunscreen] covers a large surface area of the body and it can reach areas like the back and shoulders that you may not be able to [reach] with lotion on your hands,” said Green. DeRosa added that you don’t have to worry about whether your hands are dirty or sandy, and on the whole, spray sunscreens tend to go on evenly.

With expert guidance on how to shop for spray sunscreen in mind, we've compiled some top-rated options below.

Coola Organic Sunscreen Body Spray

Made with organic ingredients like aloe vera extract, this paraben-free spray sunscreen from Coola Organic contains antioxidants that nourish skin while protecting it from the sun and hasa sheer finish that feels light on skin. The sunscreen smells like peaches, and it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. It has a 4.6-star average rating from more than 700 reviews on Amazon.

Banana Boat Ultra Sport Performance Sunscreen Spray

The Banana Boat Ultra Sport Performance Sunscreen Spray is lightweight and breathable, so it won’t leave skin feeling sticky. It’s water-resistant against moisture and sweat and specifically designed for those participating in outdoor activities like running or playing volleyball. The broad-spectrum sunscreen quickly absorbs into skin and protects you from UVA rays, which can cause wrinkles and age spots, and UVB rays, which will lead to sunburns. It has a 4.7-star average rating from more than 13,000 reviews on Amazon.

Supergoop! Play Antioxidant Body Mist

Supergoop! Play Antioxidant Body Mist is a chemical-based, non-aerosol sunscreen that provides broad-spectrum coverage and comes recommended by Dr. Green. ISPF 50 protection works alongside vitamin C, green tea extract, and acai extract to provide antioxidant benefits, according to Supergoop!. The brand says the mist is lightweight with 80 minutes of water- and sweat-resistance. The Play Antioxidant Body Mist comes with a 4.1-star average rating from more than 300 reviews.

Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Continuous Spray Sunscreen

Babies, kids and adults with sensitive skin can benefit from this hypoallergenic spray sunscreen. The Babo Botanicals Sheer Zinc Continuous Spray Sunscreen contains ingredients like sunflower seed, avocado and jojoba oils plus organic watercress, all of which work to reduce inflammation and soothe skin, according to the brand. It’s ultra-sheer and lightweight, and provides up to 80 minutes of water and sweat-resistant coverage, Babo Botanicals says. It comes with a 4.4-average star rating from more than 4,000 Amazon reviews.

Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration Weightless Clear Spray Sunscreen

The coconut fragrance that’s infused into Hawaiian Tropic’s Silk Hydration Weightless Clear Spray Sunscreen might transport you momentarily to a tropical island. It’s made from lightweight moisturizing ingredients — like mineral oil and fruit extracts — that won’t make you feel like you’re wearing sunscreen at all, the brand says. Since this broad-spectrum sunscreen sprays on clear, it does not coat skin in a white residue. It comes with a 4.6-star average rating from more than 200 customer reviews on Walgreens.

Coppertone Kids Spray Sunscreen

Coppertone says it designed the broad-spectrum Coppertone Kids Spray Sunscreen specifically for kids. It sticks to skin so it won’t run into kids’ eyes, and it’s made from a tear-free formula (just in case), according to the brand. Coppertone says the sunblock is water-resistant for 80 minutes, useful for kids who love to swim or play in sprinklers. It comes with a 4.8-average star rating from more than 3,200 customer reviews on Amazon.

PCA Skin Spray Sunscreen

PCA’s non-aerosol Skin Spray Suncreen allows you to evenly coat skin. The product was created specifically for people who engage in outdoor activities like hiking and sports, as it provides sweat-resistant broad spectrum protection. This spray sunscreen was designed in compliance with Hawaii Act 104, which prohibits the sale and distribution of sunscreens that contain the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate in Hawaii. Since PCA’s spray sunscreen meets these standards, it’s ocean- and environmental-friendly. It doesn’t come with a ton of reviews, but the PCA Skin Spray Sunscreen has a 4.5-average star rating from 25 Amazon reviews.

Neutrogena Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray

Neutrogena designed its Wet Skin Kids Sunscreen Spray specifically for kids. It’s oil-free, hypoallergenic and provides broad-spectrum protection. You can apply this spray sunscreen to wet or dry skin, making it easy to use right after kids get out of the pool or when they’re sweaty from playing outdoors. It has a 4.4-average star rating from more than 270 customer reviews on Walmart

La Roche Posay Anthelios Lotion Spray Sunscreen

The La Roche Posay Anthelios Lotion Spray Sunscreen contains senna alata, a tropical leaf extract rich in antioxidants that helps protect skin from free radicals caused by UV rays. It has a 360-degree spray application, making it easy to fully cover skin in sunscreen. According to the brand, the spray won’t feel greasy after application, either. It has a 4.6-average star rating from more than 470 customer reviews on Ulta.

BeautyCounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist

Formulated with non-nano zinc oxide, the BeautyCounter Countersun Mineral Sunscreen Mist blends into skin and won’t leave an oily residue behind, according to the brand. The mist is powered by compressed air, so it’s free of propellent chemicals that are often found in aerosol cans. BeautyCounter’s spray sunscreen contains vitamin E, a hydrating antioxidant that the brand says helps to fight free radicals. It has a 4.8-average star rating from more than 1,590 customer reviews on BeautyCounter.

What is benzene? (Should I stop wearing sunscreen?)

Spray sunscreen in particular has garnered notable attention recently after Johnson & Johnson voluntarily recalled five sunblocks containing “low levels” of benzene, which can cause cancer, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. “Benzene is a volatile chemical compound that’s a known carcinogen usually found in gasoline, cigarette smoke and crude oil,” Green said. However, “benzene is not an ingredient in sunscreens and they believe that it was contaminated in the manufacturing process.”

In a press release, Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer of Aveeno and Neutrogena sunscreens, noted this recall impacts only the aerosol version of the below sunscreens:

  • Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen
  • Neutrogena Ultra Sheer aerosol sunscreen
  • Neutrogena Invisible Daily defense aerosol sunscreen
  • Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport aerosol sunscreen
  • Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen

“If you’re worried about benzene, don’t be afraid of all sunscreens,” Green added. “It’s still crucial to wear sunscreen, as UV radiation is also a known carcinogen.” Other experts we’ve spoken to have previously told us that it’s best not to panic because “it is unknown how much [benzene] was present in sunscreen [and] is actually absorbed into the system, and as such, how likely it is to cause any harm.”

If you own any of the impacted sunscreens, your safest bet is to stop using those products immediately and reach out to Johnson & Johnson’s Consumer Care Center (1-800-458-1673).

Is spray sunscreen effective?

Green and DeRosa both said the same thing: all sunscreens are as effective and safe as each other — from lotions, creams, gels to sprays. That said, DeRosa noted that because it’s easier to apply spray sunscreen means there’s a better chance you actually put it on routinely, making spray sunscreen an “easy choice.”

However, spray sunscreen — and any sunscreen’s — efficacy lies in the proper application, Green asserted. If you don’t apply your sunscreen correctly, you’ll end up with unprotected skin without being aware of it. Spray sunscreen is similar to the idea of an electric toothbrush: Though it seems better in theory, how much it really works depends on if it’s used properly.

How to apply spray sunscreen

After talking with experts, we found the best way to apply your spray sunscreen is to shake the bottle well and then spray it close to the skin so it doesn’t go elsewhere, as DeRosa told us. “Since you want to avoid inhaling the sunscreen, make sure you don’t breathe in if you use it near your face — or avoid your face altogether,” she added.

Green told us that the American Academy of Dermatology recommends doing four passes back and forth in each area of application, for about six seconds in each area. You can then rub the product into the skin with the palm of your hand for even coverage.

You should apply it 15 minutes before going into the sun to ensure that it’s absorbed into the skin before you’re exposed to UV light, Green said. If it’s windy outside, spray the sunscreen inside first, to avoid it blowing away or accidentally inhaling it. And last, but not least, “remember to apply on commonly forgotten areas like the ears, lips, back of the neck, hands and feet.”

Regardless of the type of sunscreen you use, you should reapply it every 60 to 90 minutes (or after sweating or getting out of the water). “Consider rubbing the spray after application before it dries,” DeRosa said.

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