Avoid spray-on sunscreens: Consumer Reports

Consumer Reports is warning parents to avoid spray-on sunscreens due to potential health risks.


Photo: iStockphoto

If you think spraying your kids with sunscreen is the quick answer to protecting your kids from the sun’s harmful rays, think again.

Consumer Reports is warning parents to avoid spray-on sunscreens. They’re concerned about the risks of inhaling potentially risky ingredients—including titanium dioxide, a possible carcinogen. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has also cautioned parents to avoid spray-on sunscreens because the liquid doesn’t go on thickly enough to create a true barrier.

Read more: The biggest sunscreen myths debunked>

In 2011, the FDA asked manufacturers to prove that spray sunscreens are effective; those studies are still being done. The slow response time of the FDA has both the EWG and Consumer Reports asking for more action.

Choosing a sunscreen is not easy. I cannot be the only one who stands in front of the sunscreen aisle confused and a little anxious about my choice. The EWG puts out a good primer on sunscreen that is worth a read. But it is important to remember that in Canada we have far more choices with different (and better) ingredients than our US neighbours. For example, the EWG doesn’t review Ombrelle or any products with Mexoryl in it.

Read more: How to treat a sunburn>

Both the EWG and Consumer Reports are pressuring the American FDA to revamp their sunscreen regulations to allow other ingredients in an attempt to limit spray sunscreens and to better define the high range of SPFs. In Europe, sunscreen SPFs are limited to 50 and below, because SPF above 50 don’t necessarily mean that much more protection for the chemical load.

I don’t buy spray sunscreen because it usually contains alcohol, which is very irritating to the skin. Essentially, spray on sunscreen is a rash in a can to my sensitive kids. But they harass me to buy it every year, telling me that “Anna uses it and John uses it etc.” But an itchy, burnt child is more than I can handle so we stick to the lotions (usually Green Beaver or Ombrelle). The convenience just isn’t worth it.

Read more: Family sunscreen safety>

If you have the spray sunscreen at home, or it’s absolutely the only thing that your kids will use, here are some tips from Toronto paediatrician Dr. Daniel Flanders:

Sun avoidance is the best option: Dr. Flanders says that staying out of the sun is always better than being in the sun with sunscreen on (although enjoying summer weather is also important). He recommends hats, clothing layers and staying out of the midday sun where possible.

Layer on sunscreen thickly: Make sure you can see the sunscreen on the skin, and it is thickly applied—especially on the shoulders, nose, tops of feet.

Don’t spray it on the face: To avoid inhaling it, spray it on your hands and then put it on your child’s face.

Reapply often: All sunscreen wears off in water, with sweat and after a certain amount of time. Reapply every few hours.

Read more: 9 sunscreens you will love>

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman

10 comments on “Avoid spray-on sunscreens: Consumer Reports

  1. so is ombrelle safe for little kids in canada for sure?


    • It’s better than no sunscreen at all. But there are safer alternatives.


  2. The Blok Rok, a new, innovative sunscreen applicator would be the easiest solution to this problem. At a one time purchase price you get a reusable roll-on sunscreen applicator that you can fill and refill with the sunscreen or lotion of your choice and easily and effectively apply it thoroughly to protect against UV rays all while keeping your hands clean and mess free! Kids will love it as the design resembles a paint roller. It is great for on-the-go families with it’s convenient size and clip-feature! Check it out!


    • This is exactly what I made at home tonight, in a refillable container. Cost me about $4.50. The kids will love it, I know. And I don’t have to worry about them getting chemicals in their eyes.


  3. Thank you for providing more info on sunscreens for kids! I am one of those moms who stand in the sunscreen aisle forever, trying to determine which one is best for my little guys (and myself for that matter). I seem to end up with a different product or brand every time too. This will definitely shorten my stay and make the decisions easier.


  4. This article is missing a discussion of nano’s in sunscreen.

    It should also mention that you can safely make your own sunscreen at home. I made some tonight using coconut oil, Shea and Cocoa butter, beeswax, zinc oxide and vitamin E.

    The important thing is to know WHAT is in the products you are using… And what the effects of those ingredients can be.



    • Wouldn’t most of those ingredients attract the uv ? I use cocoa butter ,coconut oil bee wax and Shea butter to tan “tanning oil” not my child’s sun screen zinc alone is all you really need


      • Ps I don’t use that all at once I may as well sit in a roasting pan like a turkey


  5. You know what baffles me….the fact that its suggested to layer sunscreen on thickly……ummm….the skin is our largest organ and everything it absorbs enters the body just as much as that which we inhale….sunscreen is b.s. in my opinion ….all of it!


  6. I have been using spray sunscreen for my kids for years. They never get burnt or irritated skin. My baby can spend hours on the beach here in Florida, the sunshine state, and she’s just fine. I don’t know. I’ve used all sorts of kinds in the past 9 years of motherhood and no one has ever gotten a sunburn on my watch. Now when other people take my kids out that’s when they come home burnt. So frustrating. Then family wonders why I don’t let them have my kids… But anyway, just use something on young skin and do a good job putting it on.


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