Posted: Jun 19, 2014 12:00 PM
 
Spray-on sunscreens are easy and convenient skin protection, especially when working with little kids. But over the years, many studies have surfaced, proclaiming that the aerosol sprays could actually be harmful to young children. Do we need to shelve our spray-on sunscreens for good?
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Spray-on sunscreens under investigation

On Monday, Montgomery, Alabama, NBC affiliate WSFA reported that the FDA is currently researching the dangers of spray-on sunscreens, advising users to stop using the products altogether on young children, due to risk of inhalation. The news station's website stated that Consumer Reports has removed all spray-on products from their list of recommended sunscreens.

A warning label on a can of Coppertone Water Babies spray warns that 'intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal.'

While this particular piece recently made the rounds on social media, the research that the FDA is doing into these products isn't exactly news. Consumer Reports first reported the FDA's concerns about aerosol spray sunscreens in July 2011, stating that the organization would be investigating potential risks of inhalation, particularly in young children who can't or won't resist breathing in when surrounded by the mist. The reports stated that inhaling the sunscreen could cause lung irritation, due to the titanium dioxide used in aerosol sprays, which becomes a carcinogen when inhaled. While under investigation, it was advised that aerosol spray sunscreens should not be used on or around children.

In the three years since, consumers either haven't heeded the warnings, or they haven't been paying attention. To be fair, other than advising users to spray in a well-ventilated area and avoid spraying directly into the face, there are no real warnings on the product itself alerting users of the risk of inhalation. A warning label on a can of Coppertone Water Babies spray warns that “intentional misuse by deliberately concentrating and inhaling the contents can be harmful or fatal.” So while it warns that intentional inhalation poses risks, there is no mention of the risks of unintentional inhalation that the FDA has been investigating since 2011.

Other concerns about aerosol sprays

An inconsistent spray pattern may not give skin the protective coverage it needs, especially if the wind is blowing, or if the product is being applied to a squirmy child.

Aside from risk of inhalation, Consumer Reports warns that aerosol spray sunscreens carry other concerns as well.

While quick and convenient, application error can significantly decrease the effectiveness of spray-on sunscreens. Tests done by Consumer Reports show that while spray-on sunscreens can work well when used properly, it's difficult for the user to judge just how much effective coverage they are getting with their spray-on sunscreen. An inconsistent spray pattern may not give skin the protective coverage it needs, especially if the wind is blowing, or if the product is being applied to a squirmy child. Aerosol sprays in general seem to be a more wasteful product, with more sunscreen taking to the air than to the skin.

Finally, thanks to the convenience of sprays, consumers often fail to apply in the recommended 30 minutes prior to heading outside, therefore not giving the product a chance to absorb into the skin for maximum effectiveness. Many spray the product on directly before heading into the water, resulting in a greater chance that a good amount of the spray will wash right off. All sunscreens, whether spray or lotion, should be applied at least 15 minutes, preferably 30 minutes, prior to sun exposure.

Should you toss your spray-on sunscreen?

The FDA isn't necessarily telling consumers to shun all sprays just yet; they're just advising everyone to use them with caution. In the meantime, the FDA advises that consumers not use sprays on young children at all. If there is no other product available, users are urged to spray into hands and apply manually. Adults may still use sprays, as long as they try to avoid inhaling, and avoid spraying directly into the face.

Before you toss your products, take note of these warnings and tips for proper and safe use of spray-on sunscreens, and stay safe out there this summer.

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