Cancer Council Warns Against Using Aerosol Sunscreens

Study finds it takes at least a minute to apply the recommended amount for protection and that spraying could dilute the product’s effectiveness

The Cancer Council has warned against the use of aerosol sunscreens after a study by the Queensland University of Technology found the products were diluted and took a minute of spraying to dispense enough sunscreen for full-body coverage.

Heather Walker, the head of SunSmart at the Cancer Council Victoria, which funded the study, said the problem was not in the products themselves but in the method of delivery, which could lead to people not applying enough sunscreen.

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Are spray-on sunscreens safe? Do sunscreens really protect as much as their manufacturers claim they do?

There is no disputing that everyone should regularly use a sunscreen with a broad-spectrum SPF (sun protection factor) value of 15 or higher and take other precautions like limiting their time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m.

Sunscreen in a can is easy to apply quickly and easily. But do the potential health hazards of this convenience outweigh its benefits?

At this point there's very little debate as to whether sunscreen is necessary to protect our skin from the sun's harmful rays. Exposing the skin to sunlight can result in sunburn, premature aging and skin cancer. With the introduction of sunscreen in a can in the 90s, on-the-go sun-worshippers delighted in a new, easy-to-apply product that allowed them to put it on quickly and easily. Since then, its popularity has only increased — particularly with parents looking to avoid the struggle of rubbing lotion onto impatient children.

If you prefer spray sunscreens, you're not alone. Their popularity is on the rise, with sales inching nearer to top-selling lotions, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. As the study authors note, people like the quick and easy application that sprays provide. “They tend to be lighter, too, so you don't feel all matted down,” says Mona Gohara, M.D., an associate clinical professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine.

But here's the thing we learned while reporting this story: Most of us aren't using aerosols the right way. A bigger cause for concern is that it's a lot easier to miss spots if you're spraying on aerosol sunscreen than if you're rubbing in a lotion or gel with your hands.

On top of that, “these products might not coat your skin with a thick enough layer of sunscreen to ensure protection,” says Lunder. So even if you're applying something that says SPF 50 on the bottle, you may be getting less than that.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the only way to get proper coverage when using a spray sunscreen is to spray your skin until it looks very wet, then rub the product in with your hands.

Dangers of Inhaling Sunscreen

Spraying on sunblock may be a convenient way to protect your family from the sun, but experts warn that inhaling the chemicals could trigger allergies, asthma and other concerns.

Even titanium dioxide, inert and harmless on the surface of your skin, has been shown to be toxic if inhaled. In fact, if inhaled, it is considered by the International Agency of Research for Cancer to be a possible carcinogen. Research is inconclusive about the long-term effects of breathing in zinc oxide, the other option in mineral SPF.) So even clean physical sunscreens aren't safe if they're sprays.

Sunscreen is a vital tool in the fight against skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form. Research suggests that daily sunscreen use—when used correctly—could significantly cut the incidence of melanoma. This is why dermatologists advise their patients that the best sunscreen is the one they'll wear. For many families, especially those with young children, this often includes stick and spray sunscreens in addition to lotions.

No matter what type of sunscreen you use, make sure you reapply it every two hours when outdoors or immediately after swimming or sweating. If you have questions about which type of sunscreen to use for you and your family, ask a board-certified dermatologist for help.

Many dermatologists say, “the best sunscreen is the one you'll use every day,” and Lee agrees. Spray-on products are certainly better than nothing for people who otherwise refuse to use sunscreen, or for people who have a physical limitation that makes spray sunscreen the only practical option. Read more: theguardian.com

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