Is spray sunscreen dangerous?
The FDA hasn’t decided yet, but in the meantime, Consumer Reports recommended that people avoid it until we know better, particularly on kids. After personally testing over 100 natural sunscreens, I’m treating it as NOT SAFE for three huge reasons, the third of which you’ll see right away in this video:
If you can’t view the video above, find it at “spray sunscreen is dangerous” on YouTube.
What do you think? Is spray-on sunscreen bad for you?
The FDA started the process of investigating spray sunscreens (and more) in 2011.
But they never finalized their recommendations! The proposed rules in the Federal Register say: “Considering the greatly increasing number of sunscreen products formulated as sprays, it is critical that the safety and effectiveness of this dosage form be adequately supported.”
And what has happened in that time, between 2011 and the present? The number of spray sunscreens on the market has only increased, even though we have no idea if they’re safe and effective or not!
I want to be the voice saying NO WAY, NO SPRAY SUNSCREENS, especially to daycare centers who are requiring that parents bring ONLY spray sunscreen!
Here are some notes from the video for those who would rather read:
1. Aerosol Spray Sunscreen has an Inhalation Danger
If you can smell it, particles are going into your lungs.
In the same way as secondhand smoke can cause cancer, whatever is in the spray sunscreen is being delivered to your kids’ lungs, and we’re really not sure the effect it may have. Allergy doctors in particular are concerned about its impact on kids, especially those with allergies or asthma already.
“The substances will go into the body and will have to be dealt with through the liver…the largest filtration organ of the body.”
We really don’t know when babies’ livers begin to work properly to filter the junk they’re exposed to through skin, air and food, which is why many personal care products simply aren’t rated for kids under 2.
Most say to hold your breath when spraying sunscreens, but very young children aren’t good at holding their breath anyway.
Personally, I’m much more cautious. I don’t want it around my kids at all.
2. Conventional Sunscreen Isn’t Safe for Your Skin Anyway
I’ve written about the dangers of chemical sunscreen many times, but in a nutshell, the two greatest risks of the active ingredients in conventional sunscreens are:
- hormone disruptors that act as estrogen in the body after being absorbed through the skin and are also potent allergens for some children
- free radicals (cancer-causing!) formed when the sunscreen reacts chemically with the sun
If it’s not safe for your skin, it’s certainly not safe for your lungs. Ditch the sprays!
Erik Kreider is the guy lighting things on fire in the video, and he graciously gave me permission to use clips. He’s also a Standford-trained biochemist who formulated one of our favorite sunscreens ever, Kabana – the only one to start and stay on the “top recommended list” in our massive sunscreen review since 2010.
3. Spray Sunscreen is Highly Flammable
As you saw in the video, aerosol spray sunscreen is flammable, and there are documented cases of people catching fire after applying spray sunscreen, when they walked up to the grill or even stood too close to a citronella candle, for example. Some of these incidents results in spray sunscreen recalls.
Although the FDA hasn’t officially ruled spray sunscreens out, their 2013 consumer update confirms:
“These incidents suggest that there is a possibility of catching fire if you are near an open flame or a spark after spraying on a flammable sunscreen—even if you believe you have waited a sufficient time for the sunscreen to dry and your skin feels dry.”
If that’s not all enough, spray sunscreen is also pegged for having lower SPF than advertised and being notoriously mis-applied, such that people think they’re spraying evenly but really are not getting consistent coverage at all. For many reasons, Consumer Reports repeated their 2011 recommendation in 2014:
“Because of those safety concerns, Consumer Reports doesn’t recommend spray sunscreens for children.”
They’re not the only voice telling us to ditch the spray sunscreens!
“Incomplete protection frequently occurs, and the spray aspect can lead to inhalation of the sunscreen, which is dangerous for the lungs,” says Dr. Danelle Fisher, chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. “Overall, lotion sunscreen is preferable to spray sunscreen for children.” (source)
Safe Alternatives to Conventional Spray Sunscreen
I get it.
Sprays are SUPER convenient. They’re so quick to reapply on your kids, they pretty much don’t have to towel off and you barely have to look away from the book you’re reading poolside.
Chronic disease is pretty time-consuming, I understand. Let’s invest these few minutes please moms?
There are 3 alternatives that I feel are “quicker” than a tube of cream:
1. Facial Sticks
Our 100 sunscreen tests have included about a dozen sticks. The ones we liked are as follows, in order:
- Raw Elements (tinted and plain on Amazon) Get 10% off with the code KS10 at Raw Elements
- Badger Tangerine & Vanilla stick
- Trader Joe’s stick
- Butterbean Sport Stick
- Avasol sticks
- Rubber Ducky/Carefree Naturals
- Babo Botanicalss Sport Shield
- Bare Belly Organics (this is a “body” stick the size of a deodorant – they also sell a facial stick that is smaller, but the per-ounce price is so much higher, just use this one!)
- Purple Prairie sunstick
There is one downside to the stick sunscreens, according to research, and that’s the light application problem. Sticks tend to go on pretty thinly, so it’s possible that you’re not applying enough to get the promised SPF protection. But if you KNOW that risk, you can work harder to get it on thick, and as long as you’re not seeing sunburns, chances are good the UVA (cancer-causing) rays are also not getting through.
You can watch me put on sunscreen sticks in this video from Facebook where we demo 8 of them.
2. Tins/Tubs of Sunscreen
It sounds silly, but if you’re a parent you know that any minor efficiency is GOLDEN. Having sunscreen cream in a tub that sits open for your finger to fly in and out of as you apply to wriggling toddlers is truly just *that* much quicker than picking up and squeezing a tube ten times. Every bit helps!
We’ve enjoyed quite a few tubs of sunscreens (and didn’t like others). Here are the good ones:
- Raw Elements (tinted facial moisturizer and a larger tub of the regular cream on Amazon) Get 10% off with the code KS10 at Raw Elements
- A Wholesome Home
- Bare Belly Organics
Too much to look through right now?
I organized alllll the sunscreens we reviewed in their recommendation category – one page at-a-glance to find out what is safe to buy AND works! Print it or save to your phone for reference!
The guide also includes answers to questions people ask me all the time:
- Which brand rubs in the clearest?
- What’s the best for all day outdoor sports?
- How do I save money on natural sunscreens?
- What looks good on ladies’ faces?
- Is there an option that is FAST to apply to wiggly kids?
I’ll send a copy to your email so you can see it right away and find it again later!