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Yes, spray sunscreen is as effective as lotion sunscreen, but both must be applied correctly to work best

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreens that are broad-spectrum, water-resistant and have an SPF of 30 or higher.

The dog days of summer are upon us and many Americans are spending a lot of time outdoors soaking up the sun. 

While most people understand the importance of applying sunscreen every day before heading outside, a VERIFY viewer wants to know how effective spray sunscreen is in comparison to lotion sunscreen. 

THE QUESTION

Is spray sunscreen as effective as lotion sunscreen?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER 

This is true.

Yes, spray sunscreen is as effective as lotion sunscreen, but board-certified dermatologists say both must be applied correctly to work best. 

WHAT WE FOUND

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), applying sunscreen is a vital tool in the fight against skin cancer, including the deadliest form, melanoma.

“Research suggests that daily sunscreen use — when used correctly — could significantly cut the incidence of melanoma. This is why dermatologists advise their patients that the best sunscreen is the one they’ll wear,” the AAD says on its website. 

When it comes to the effectiveness of spray sunscreen in comparison to lotion sunscreen, Dr. Danilo Del Campo, who serves as the medical director at the Chicago Skin Clinic, tells VERIFY they are equivalent. 

“Anything that has the word sunscreen or sunblock is highly regulated by the FDA, so on a molecular and scientific level, yes —  between a lotion that has SPF 30 and a spray that's SPF 30, they are equivalent,” said Dr. Del Campo. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Rajani Katta, a clinical professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine, says “both lotion sunscreen and spray sunscreen can be effective as long as they're used correctly.”

“When you are spraying, you do have to make sure that you're getting adequate coverage,” said Dr. Katta. “Usually what that means is you want to make sure that you're getting close enough to your skin and that you're spraying for a long enough time.” 

Dr. Del Campo and Dr. Katta both say that after applying a spray sunscreen, it is important to make sure it is glistening on the skin before rubbing it in to get an even layer of coverage. 

“I know some of the products say that they're just ‘spray-and-go,’ but that's not what I recommend,” said Dr. Katta. “I recommend that you spray and then you make sure that you rub it in so that you're not missing any spots.” 

According to the AAD, it is important to make sure you are reapplying sunscreen every two hours when outdoors or immediately after swimming or sweating no matter what type of sunscreen you are using. 

“There are certain sunscreens that are going to resist the water a little bit better, but regardless, I think it's really important every two hours you should be reapplying sunscreen. If you're in the water and you get out, you should probably go ahead and reapply then also. You want to just take that extra level of caution,” said Dr. Katta. 

Dr. Del Campo says it’s also recommended to apply spray sunscreen about 15 to 20 minutes prior to being exposed to the sun and before participating in any water activities. 

“All of those sprays have a certain alcohol content on it, so it takes a little while for the alcohol to evaporate and for the actual chemical ingredient to bind,” said Dr. Del Campo. 

As for applying sunscreen to the face, Dr. Katta says she does not recommend spraying sunscreen directly on the face, especially children’s faces. Instead, she says people should first spray the sunscreen on their hand and then rub it in before applying it. She also says people can use a separate sunscreen lotion for the face in order to avoid inhaling the spray-on kind. 

“You have to be extra careful with your face in terms of getting adequate coverage,” said Dr. Katta. “I don't recommend it for children's faces. I think it's okay for the body, as long as their head is turned away.” 

To safely and adequately use spray sunscreen, the AAD recommends these tips

  • Hold the nozzle close to your skin and spray generously. Most adults need at least one ounce of sunscreen — about enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover the body. Since it can be difficult to determine how much spray sunscreen is enough, a good rule of thumb is to spray until your skin glistens. It’s also important to remember that a typical 6-ounce bottle of spray sunscreen contains six applications.
  • Rub it in thoroughly. To ensure that you didn’t miss any spots and that you have an even layer of coverage, rub the sunscreen in after spraying.
  • Avoid inhaling spray sunscreen. Current U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations do not pertain to spray sunscreens, although the agency continues to evaluate these products to ensure safety and effectiveness. Do not inhale spray sunscreen, and never spray sunscreen around or near your face or mouth. Instead, spray the sunscreen on your hands first and then apply it to your face.
  • Avoid using spray sunscreen on windy days. These conditions make it more difficult to apply sunscreen and easier to accidentally inhale it.
  • Never apply a spray sunscreen near heat or open flame, or while smoking. Although sunscreen isn’t usually flammable, it can be when used in aerosol form. Never spray it by a grill, candles, or other source of fire, and make sure it is thoroughly rubbed in and dry before approaching any open flames.

The AAD also recommends looking for sunscreens that are broad-spectrum, water-resistant, and have an SPF of 30 or higher. They also say people should use other preventative methods, along with sunscreen, to protect themselves from the sun’s rays while outside. 

“Broad-spectrum means that the sunscreen will protect against both types of harmful ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer — not just against the ones that cause sunburn,” says the AAD. “Since no sunscreen blocks 100% of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, it’s also important to seek shade and wear protective clothing whenever possible, including a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection.”  

More from VERIFY: Yes, sunscreen does expire, but not every bottle will have an expiration date

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