Skip this type of sunscreen for now

Many of us have gone through this before. It’s time to slather on sunscreen lotion - your child squirms and protests or bolts in opposite direction. While spray sunscreen can make this task easier, it’s best to stay away while health officials evaluate if they’re safe and effective.

Most recently Consumer Reports recommended that these products shouldn’t be used on children until Food and Drug Administration completes its analysis. In 2011, the FDA requested additional information on spray sunscreens because they are applied differently from other sunscreen dosage forms, such as lotions and sticks.

What’s the concern? Sprays products such as sunscreen, hairsprays, and antiperspirant are more likely to be ingested because they can be breathed into the mouth and nose, said Gary Emmett, MD, a regular contributor to this blog.

“They are much more likely to cause allergic reactions and asthma attacks. Many contain fragrances, metal oxides like titanium and aluminum and organic chemicals that in large amounts are allergy sensitizing and even development delaying. The safer course is to avoid them,” he said.

In the case of spray sunscreens, some products contain the active ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which may contain nanoparticles. These compounds have been linked to reproductive and developmental effects in animals, according to Consumer Reports.

They offer the following tips for using sunscreens carefully:
  • With all sunscreens, be especially careful on the face, taking care to avoid the eyes and mouth.
  • Adults can still use sprays, but don’t spray your face! Instead, spray on your hands and rub it on, making sure to avoid your eyes and mouth. And try to avoid inhaling it.
  • Make sure you apply enough. Consumer Reports tests have found that sprays can work well when used properly, but it is harder to make sure that enough has been applied especially when it’s windy. You may want to apply twice on windy days or use a lotion instead.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding the sunscreen ingredient oxybenzone if possible because of concerns about mild hormonal properties. Other tips for choosing sunscreen from the AAP can be found here.

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