What you should know about sunscreen sprays

July 12, 2013

Mark L. Friedman, MD, FACEP, FACP

What has dermatologists, golf course superintendents, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) up in arms? The answer is spray sunscreens.

Dermatologists worry aloud that people will not use enough of the spray sunscreen to obtain maximum protection. You really need to glob the stuff on your body. And, they worry that consumers will apply it unevenly, providing a lesser amount of protection from the sun's damaging rays.

In other words, you will miss some spots that will burn as you are having fun in the sun. Importantly, not all sprays protect us from UVA and UVB rays that can cause serious skin health issues and FDA urges consumers to only use products with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15.

Golf course greens keepers, who worry more about the grass than the players, are now warning golfers to apply the sunscreen sprays while they are in parking lots or locker rooms, not while they are on the course. The drift from the spray kills the grass that they try to manage meticulously.

The FDA is worried that people using the spray sunscreens will actually catch fire. According the to the Agency in 2012, FDA received reports of five separate incidents in which people wearing sunscreen spray near an open flame actually caught fire. Many other sunscreen spray products contain flammable ingredients, commonly alcohol. The same is true of other spray products, such as hairspray and insect repellants, and even some non-spray sunscreens may contain flammable ingredients. Many flammable products have a label warning against their use near an open flame.

According to the FDA, you should never apply a product labeled as flammable while you are near a source of flame. In the five incidents reported to FDA, however, the burns occurred after the sunscreen spray was applied. The ignition sources involved lighting a cigarette, standing too close to a lit citronella candle, approaching a grill, and in one case, doing some welding.

Lydia Velazquez, an FDA expert on sunscreen and other skin-related products, says people should "absolutely be using a sunscreen product before venturing out in the summer sun." Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. To decrease this risk, regularly use a sunscreen with a Broad Spectrum SPF (Sun Protection Factor) value of 15 or higher and other sun protection measures including limiting time in the sun, especially from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and wearing long-sleeve shirts, pants, hats, and sunglasses.

When you choose a sunscreen, think about where you will be using it. If you will be anywhere near a flame source, avoid any product with a flammability warning and choose another non-flammable sunscreen product instead. This recommendation is particularly important when it comes to choosing a product for children since they are frequently active and may get near a flame source.

Jeff Nedelman has more than 30 years of experience in various industries, including a stint as a Chief of Staff to a U.S. Senator and chief lobbyist for the nation's largest food trade association. In all those years, Jeff has learned that the shortest distance between two political points is not a straight line.

Originally published Jul 12, 2013 10:00:19 AM.