How to Use Spray Sunscreen the Right Way, According to Dermatologists
- Spray sunscreens work effectively if you apply correctly: Spray until you see it on the skin, rub it in afterward, and reapply often.
- Never spray sunscreen directly into your face and avoid inhaling it.
- If you can, use lotion on kids, but some SPF if always better than no SPF.
If you’ve ever had to coat a squirmy, wriggly kid with sunblock, then you’ve probably joined Team Spray Sunscreen, the seemingly easier for applying SPF to even the most impatient person (including yourself).
In fact, people now buy aerosol cans almost as much as lotions, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. But do the sprays really work as well as the traditional sunblock? They can — but only if you’re using them the right way, says Raman Madan, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Northwell Health
Get all your spray sunscreen questions answered below — plus, our top picks from the Good Housekeeping Institute.
Is spray-on sunscreen effective?
Yes, spray sunscreen will protect your skin from harmful UV rays and sun damage — but only if you apply enough. While spray sunscreens go on easily enough, it’s harder to know if you’ve put on an adequate amount.
“It is not that spray sunscreen does not work as well as lotions, the issue is that a lot of spray sunscreen needs to be applied to get the same benefit,” Dr. Madan says. “If you apply an SPF 45 spray for 2-3 seconds, you only get realistically SPF 10-12 protection.
It’s less surprising then that while 99% of 540 dermatologists surveyed recommended sunscreen to their patients, only 69% recommend sprays, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.
Sunblock lotions have clear usage guidelines that are harder to replicate with a spray bottle: Adults should use at least 1 ounce every 2 hours — about a shot-glass-size amount, plus a nickel-sized dollop for the face alone.
That means a 6-ounce bottle of spray sunscreen should last you only six applications. To make sure you’re using enough, Dr. Madan advises spraying each area for about 6 seconds or until it looks white.
Is spray sunscreen bad for kids?
It depends on what you have on hand, but stick with lotions over sprays if possible. “I generally avoid recommending spray sunscreen in children because of the risk of inhalation of particles,” Dr. Madan says. “In the end, we always remind patients than spray sunscreen is always better than no sunscreen.”
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) warns against inhaling spray sunscreen because current U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations do not apply to to spray sunscreens, although the FDA does evaluate the products for safety and effectiveness.
When You Shouldn’t Use Spray Sunscreen
Spray sunscreen isn’t always the best choice for adults, either. Here’s when to pick lotion instead, according to the AAD:
- On windy days: The goal is to get the SPF on you, not your towel (or in your lungs), so stick to lotion or sticks if possible.
- When you’re near heat or fire: Sunscreens in aerosol form can be flammable. Don’t spray near grills, candles, lit cigarettes, or open flames, and make sure your skins is thoroughly dry before approaching any sources of fire .
Are you supposed to rub in spray-on sunscreen?
Yep, you’re going to need to rub it in afterward to get the full effect. When you’re ready to apply, first head outside. Never spray sunscreen indoors as it can impact the air quality and make make floors very slippery, says Birnur Aral, Ph.D., Director of the Health, Beauty & Environmental Sciences Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute.
Hold the nozzle close to your skin and spray until you can see it on the skin, the AAD recommends. Then rub the SPF all around to ensure you didn’t miss any spots.
If you’re worried about missing spots (same!) but love the convenience of the sprays, try a combo of regular sunblock and aerosols.”Apply lotion at home, but when you’re at the beach you can layer on top with spray and repeat every two hours,” Dr. Aral says. As always, further shield your skin by seeking out shade and wearing protective clothing when possible.
How do you apply spray sunscreen on your face?
Because of the risk of inhalation, never spray sunscreen near your face or mouth, the AAD advises. If you’re caught lotion or stick-less, spray the sunscreen generously onto your hands first, and then rub it into your face.
Next time, try this Lab pick for face sunscreens: Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Face Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50. It’s infused with soothing oatmeal and scored points among our testers with sensitive skin.
What is the best spray-on sunscreen?
The Good Housekeeping Institute likes Banana Boat SunComfort Clear UltraMist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50+, which tied for first place with a lotion in our most recent tests. The spray received the highest scores in absorbency, texture, and overall satisfaction from our testers, who loved the “lightweight” formula.
We also like Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 50. One tester training for a three-day, 60-mile walk used it daily for 5-10 mile walks in the 80-100°F sun and reported she would use it again on her own.