Officials Unsure of Spray Sunscreen Safety

Spray sunscreen safety undecided in ongoing FDA investigation

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Health officials strongly recommend sunscreen use — especially in scorching summer conditions. But they're not yet so sure about spray sunscreens.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is currently investigating spray sunscreen safety but has not yet reached a conclusion. Meanwhile, Consumer Reports issued a statement last month telling parents not to use spray sunscreens on children.

Citing the risk of breathing in potentially harmful sunscreen ingredients, Consumer Reports recommended sticking with sunscreen lotions for kids until the FDA completes its investigation.

"Limit your sun exposure to lower your risk of skin cancer."

However, Consumer Reports said adults can still use sunscreen sprays, but they should not spray them on or near the face. Officials suggested spraying sunscreen on your hands and rubbing it on your face, carefully avoiding the eyes and mouth.

In children, though, the risk of squirming or breathing in the spray is too great, Consumer Reports noted. 

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also warns against spray sunscreens due to inhalation risk.

"EWG is especially concerned about inhalation of nano-sized and micronized zinc and titanium in powdered sunscreens and makeups," the organization wrote on its website. "Inhalation is a much more direct route of exposure to these compounds than skin penetration, which appears to be low in healthy skin."

Consumer Reports acknowledged that spray sunscreens can be effective in adults when used correctly.

"Our tests have found that sprays can work well when used properly — but it is harder to make sure that you apply enough, especially when it’s windy," Consumer Reports wrote. "We recommend spraying as much as can be evenly applied, and then repeating, just to be safe. On windy days, you might want to spray the sunscreen on your hands and rub it on — or just choose one of our recommended lotions instead."

On its website, the FDA notes an alternate spray sunscreen safety concern — flammability. The FDA cited five incidents of spray sunscreen igniting and causing serious burns.

"You should never apply a product labeled as flammable while you are near a source of flame," the FDA wrote. "In the five incidents reported to FDA, however, the burns occurred after the sunscreen spray had been applied. The ignition sources were varied and involved lighting a cigarette, standing too close to a lit citronella candle, approaching a grill, and in one case, doing some welding."

Review Date: 
August 13, 2014
Last Updated:
August 15, 2014