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Spray or lotion sunscreen: What’s best?

By The Health News Team | June 30, 2023
Spraying sunscreen on legs

Using sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect against skin cancer, and there are plenty of choices available. But what type of sun protection is best: lotion or spray sunscreen?

Spray sunscreen
According to Dr. Mona Mofid, a board-certified dermatologist with Sharp Community Medical Group, the best sunscreen to use varies by individual preference.

“Spray-on sunscreen is easy to apply and dries quickly,” Dr. Mofid says. “It is also useful for hard-to-reach areas, such as the back and shoulders, and areas often missed, such as the back of legs and feet.”

Spray sunscreen is lightweight and often nongreasy — a great option for people who don’t like to use lotion sunscreen because of the way it feels on their skin. “Most importantly, spray-on is convenient to reapply more frequently,” says Dr. Mofid.

When using spray sunscreen, Dr. Mofid recommends spraying it on while outdoors. Also, you should hold your breath during application to avoid inhaling any airborne elements that can be irritating to the lungs.

Lotion sunscreen
The benefit of using a lotion sunscreen is that you can rub it onto your body and see it being absorbed into the skin. This can provide deeper and more coverage. With spray sunscreen, it can be difficult to know where on your body you’ve already sprayed.

Experts recommend applying sunscreen, whether spray or lotion, at least 15 to 30 minutes before going outside to provide the maximum benefit — and because people often forget to apply sunscreen once they are outside. Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, and one that protects against both ultraviolet A and B (UVA and UVB) rays. No matter what type of sunscreen you use, it should be reapplied every few hours for consistent protection, especially after swimming or sweating.

Chemical-based vs. mineral-based sunscreen
When it comes to sunscreen ingredients, there are two categories — chemical- and mineral-based sunscreen. Mineral-based sunscreen is generally preferred because it is safe for the ocean, especially the coral reefs. It is also considered organic and broad spectrum, protecting against UVA and UVB rays.

The main types of mineral-based sunscreen contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. California includes airborne titanium dioxide on the Proposition 65 list of harmful chemicals, citing that the particles are so small there is a high risk of them being inhaled.

“This warning is only for airborne titanium dioxide,” says Dr. Mofid. “There are several options for spray sunscreens that contain the other mineral sunscreen, zinc oxide.”

“You should consider using a rub-in lotion before leaving the house and a spray when it’s time to reapply sunscreen for protection,” says Dr. Mofid. “Ideally, clothing is the best protection, particularly athletic fibers that have built-in UV protection. But for areas that are hard to reach or to reapply, spray sunscreen can be very useful.”

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