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Before spending the day outdoors, many people use spray sunscreen to protect their skin from the sun’s UV rays. It's a quick and easy way to apply sunscreen, and eliminates time you’d otherwise be spending rubbing in a messy, white and creamy substance. Spray sunscreen is sold by brands like Coppertone and Neutrogena and it’s easily accessible. You can purchase spray sunscreen in stores such as Sephora and Ulta, or online at retailers like Amazon and Dermstore.
Harold Lancer, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills , says that in the mind of a consumer, spray sunscreen is easier to apply. But it actually may be less efficient and less effective compared to cream, lotion and gel sunscreens, he added. We talked to Lancer — who's consulted Beyoncé, Oprah, Margot Robbie and J.Lo, to name a few of his clients — about how protective spray sunscreen really is, and why people might want to reconsider relying on it.
Is spray sunscreen effective?
According to Lancer, people often think spray sunscreen is more effective than its cream, lotion and gel counterparts. However, that might not be the case. Whether or not spray sunscreen is effective at protecting skin also has to do with how often it's reapplied. He says sunscreen in any form should not be depended on alone; it’s best when paired with sun-avoidance accessories, like sunglasses, hats and visors.
Because spray sunscreen is usually an aerosol product, Lancer says applying it can be quite difficult. Wind currents and airflow outside can move particles of spray sunscreen away from the body so not enough gets on skin. Because of this, Lancer says, you have to use a lot of spray sunscreen. Often, however, people don’t use nearly enough. Considering improperly applied sunscreen has, Lancer increasingly concerned about sunburns and the development of skin cancer. Additionally, inhaling spray sunscreen is dangerous, not to mention it can coat furniture (or toilet seats) and make floor surfaces slippery.
Overall, Lancer thinks of spray sunscreen as similar to an electric toothbrush: It might seem “better” in theory, but how much it really works depends on if it’s used properly.
How to apply spray sunscreen
After you spray sunscreen to the body, it’s important to make sure you can see the substance on your skin. If you can’t, the particles probably got lost in the air. Lancer says it’s also critical to rub in spray sunscreen. If you don’t, there won’t be an even distribution across your skin, thus increasing the chance of getting sunburned. Regardless of the type of sunscreen you use, it needs to be applied every two hours, according to Lancer. If you’re participating in outdoor sports or are going in the water, you need to apply sunscreen every hour.
Where to apply spray sunscreen — and areas to avoid
- Spray sunscreen can be useful to apply to the back, especially if you don’t have a partner to help you apply cream, lotion or gel sunscreen to that area.
- Lancer does not recommend using spray sunscreen on the face and ears. He says spray sunscreen won’t clog pores more than any other types, however.
- Lancer does not recommend using spray sunscreen on parts of the body where there may be a lot of rubbing or irritation, as this can cause the sunscreen to wear away more quickly.
- Lancer urges people to be conscious of applying sunscreen in “nooks and crannies” that are often forgotten about, like the ears, scalp, eyebrows and upper eyelids.
In general, Lancer thinks using cream, lotion or gel sunscreen is a safer option when compared to spray sunscreen. But as long as you’re using some type of sunblock, Lancer says it’s better than nothing, adding many people think they’re invincible to skin cancer, so they’re lazy about using sunscreen and practicing sun avoidance. If spray sunscreen is how you want to protect your skin this summer, here are the best options on the market.
12 best spray sunscreens
Made with organic ingredients like aloe vera extract, this paraben-free spray sunscreen contains antioxidants that nourish skin while protecting it from the sun. It has a sheer finish and feels light on skin. The sunscreen smells like peaches, and it’s water-resistant for up to 80 minutes.
This broad-spectrum spray sunscreen is made from a zinc-based mineral formula. It’s hypoallergenic and good for those with sensitive skin. Sun Bum suggests shaking the bottle before using, and applying it to skin 15 minutes before sun exposure.
PCA’s non-aerosol continuous spray sunscreen 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.
Neutrogena designed this spray sunscreen specifically for kids. It’s oil-free and hypoallergenic, as well as 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.
Supergoop’s spray sunscreen is powered by air, which makes its zinc-based formula free of chemical propellants. The sunscreen sprays on white, but once it's rubbed in, it leaves a sheer finish on skin. This sunscreen contains nourishing green tea extract, and it provides broad-spectrum protection.
This spray sunscreen is lightweight and breathable, so it won’t leave skin feeling sticky. It’s specifically designed for those participating in outdoor activities like running and 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, overexposure to which will lead to sunburns.
EltaMD’s spray sunscreen can be used by both children and adults due to its gentle formula. It’s made from an oil-free, zinc-based mineral formula that sprays on white but becomes sheer when rubbed in. This sunscreen is also non-comedogenic, which means it's designed to prevent clogging pores or irritating acne.
Formulated with non-nano zinc oxide, this mineral-based sunscreen blends into skin and won’t leave an oily residue behind. 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 helps to fight free radicals.
This 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. The sunscreen is alcohol-free and doesn't make skin feel greasy after application.
Babies, kids and adults with sensitive skin will benefit from this hypoallergenic spray sunscreen. It contains ingredients like sunflower seed, avocado and jojoba oils, plus organic watercress, all of which work to reduce inflammation and soothe skin. This sunscreen is ultra-sheer and lightweight, and provides up to 80 minutes of water and sweat-resistant coverage.
The coconut fragrance infused into this sunscreen might transport you momentarily to a tropical island. It’s made from moisturizing ingredients — like mineral oil and fruit extracts — that leave a light texture on skin; it's designed so you won’t feel like you’re wearing sunscreen at all. Since this broad-spectrum sunscreen sprays on clear, it does not coat skin in a white residue.
Coppertone designed this broad-spectrum 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). You can spray the sunscreen on kids’ skin from any angle, providing maximum coverage. The sunblock is water-resistant for 80 minutes, useful for kids who love to swim or play in sprinklers.