Spray Sunscreen Safety: What You Need to Know

5 minute read

By HealthVersed

For many, a fun day at the beach includes using the cheapest sunscreen they can find, and then spending six hours outside without applying. Fortunately, if you start a search online, you can learn how to stay safe while using spray sunscreens.

Aerosol sunscreens have been growing in popularity because of their simplicity and ease of application. However, not all sunscreens are equally safe, and we’ll explain the reasons why for all you beach bums and water-bugs heading to the shoreline.

It Blocks the Wrong UV Rays

UV rays are the main thing we have been protecting ourselves from for years. We were told in school and by our doctors that UV rays are harmful to our bodies and eyes, hence the sunglasses and parasols that I’m sure you carry on your walks about town.

There are two kinds of UV rays that penetrate our skin: UVA and UVB. Since its inception, sunscreen has been designed to block UVB rays, and spray-on sunscreen is no different. However, recent studies have shown that UVB helps our bodies create Vitamin D – something North Americans sorely need more of. The best way to get Vitamin D is from direct sunlight – like, by going outside with your shirt, and maybe more, off. In my opinion, blocking the rays that help create the vitamin you are going outside to get more of makes zero sense.

There are now some sunscreens that are designed to block UVA rays, which is a very good thing. UVA rays are the rays that cause melanoma – the skin cancer that everyone knows about and that has taken lives. Blocking UVA is a good thing. Blocking UVB isn’t.

It Contains a Host of Mystery Chemicals

As with many mass produced products, there are a lot of really bad things in sunscreen. Spray on sunscreen is exceptionally worse. (We’ll get to that in a minute.) Here are some of the great chemicals in sunscreen that are probably super safe and totally won’t kill you later on in your life:

Oxybenzone: This is what’s put in sunscreen to absorb ultraviolet light. Sounds great in theory, right? Well, it is also believed to “cause hormone disruptions and cell damage that may provoke cancer.” What a barrel of monkeys! According to EWG, “…the chemical oxybenzone penetrates the skin, gets into the bloodstream and acts like estrogen in the body, it can trigger allergic reactions. Data are preliminary, but studies have found a link between higher concentrations of ozybenzone and health harms.”

Neato! That definitely sounds like something I WANT on my body for hours!

Retinyl Palmitate (Vitamin A palmitate): If sunscreens have this in them, they may “actually increase the speed at which malignant cells develop and spread skin cancer.” This chemical is fine in night creams, but is activated when it’s in direct sunlight. Where do I sign up for that?

Synthetic Fragrance: These are chemicals that help the sunscreen smell half decent. It turns out that they’re also very bad for you. Who would have thought? Parabens interfere with hormone production; phthalates are carcinogenic and are linked to decreased sperm counts and early breast development; and synthetic musks are also linked to hormone disruption. As a general rule, avoid things that use the word “musk.”

It Releases Carcinogens and Can Set You on Fire

This point is specific to spray sunscreens. As I said before, getting cream-style sunscreen all over a squirmy, impatient child for fun in the sun can be a little difficult. Spray-on seems to be the way to go, right? (If you’ve been reading this article up until this point, you know where this is going. If you haven’t, you picked a weird spot to jump in, and I’m hurt you didn’t read the rest.)

Toxic particles are released into the air every time you spray down your child with sunscreen. These particles can find their way into your child’s lungs. They get into yours too, but you’re probably more worried about your kids. Needless to say, toxins in your lungs are bad news.

Another fun fact about spray sunscreens is that they contain flammable ingredients. There is even a growing belief that most sunscreen is bad for you. From toxic ingredients, to blocking the wrong thing, to setting you on fire, spray sunscreen is by far worse than lotion. That being said, not all lotion is great either.

Most of my caution comes from how much “mystery meat” goes into the making of these sunscreens. Don’t get me wrong; there are some decent sunscreens out there. I’ll list a few at the end of the article.

When thinking of sunscreen and its various ingredients, I’m reminded of the Simpsons episode where Lunch Lady Doris is grinding a gym mat into the food. That’s really what we’re putting on our bodies when we put on most store-branded sunscreen. As much meat as there is in that gym mat is how much good we’re doing ourselves by putting on carcinogenic sunscreen that may or may not work how we want it to.

I prefer using my body as a gauge for how long I need to be in the sun. We were all born with a timer and a thermometer that tells us when to go inside.

It’s called burning.

“What about cancer? What do you suggest to prevent that then, your Majesty?” First off, I’m proud of my regal status, thank you. Second, if your body feels like it’s burning, then throw a towel over your shoulders or find some shade. At the very least, once you’ve hit your Vitamin D maximum dose, then put on some lotion.

North Americans living in the northern states and provinces aren’t exposed to sunlight and rich UV rays as much as those living in sunnier climates. Therefore, we burn a little easier. This is true. That just means you have to ease into your sunshine enjoyment!

Don’t try to do all your tanning in a couple of days. Go outside at the start of summer and find any excuse to get outside and enjoy the sunlight! Where I’m from, summer is very short and can go away in an instant. Use a bit less sunscreen and chase the sunlight! Run when it burns, then do it again tomorrow. Your body will thank you!


Here are some sunscreens that are safer to use (take note that there are no sprays on the list)