Not All Sunscreen Sprays Are Created Equal—The Only 15 Derms Will Touch

If you ask me, spray sunscreen is undeniably the easiest way to apply sunscreen. I’m an inherently lazy person, so spreading on yet another cream can sometimes feel like a big ask. I’m also incredibly pale, however, so I can never leave the house without sun protection—particularly when I’m still wearing shorts, tank tops, and dresses. Spray sunscreen often feels like the easiest option, but it’s definitely polarizing in the beauty industry.

"In general, spray sunscreens give less consistent results than their lotion or cream counterparts,” says Mona Gohara, MD, a board-certified dermatologist. "Spray is more likely to go into the air and not on your skin, especially because we often do not rub them in. More spots are missed when applying a spray sunscreen, in general.”

Are Spray Sunscreens Safe?


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It’s definitely true that spray sunscreen can lead to patchier protection, as I’ve seen it myself. Many people are also uneasy by the fact that the carcinogen benzene was found in at least 15 popular spray sunscreens recently, prompting brands to pull them from the shelves. "I want to emphasize that this recall should not deter you from using sunscreen,” says Mike Huffstetler, CEO, and Co-Founder of Bask Suncare. He emphasizes that benzene is not an inherent part of spray sunscreens, and it’s actually a contaminant that gets in at some point in the manufacturing process. 

If you’re worried about benzene contamination, Huffstetler recommends that you make sure the sunscreen you’re buying regularly tests for benzenes. He also advises opting for sunscreens without chemical propellants. "To aerosolize a sunscreen spray, typically manufacturers will mix in a petroleum-derived aerosolizing agent—AKA a chemical propellant—with the SPF formula,” Huffstetler says. "Since this creates an inherently increased risk for benzene contamination, it’s simply best to avoid them altogether.”

How to Apply Spray Sunscreens


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Plenty of spray sunscreens that are both safe and effective exist on the market right now. Here’s the thing about spray sunscreen, though—it’s all in the application. "According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one should hold the nozzle close to the skin and spray generously,” says Gohara. "Spray until the skin glistens.”

Gohara notes that one container of spray sunscreen should last about six applications, so if your spray bottle is lasting you a really long time, you may be applying too little. Gohara also says you should rub your spray sunscreen in thoroughly to make sure you don’t miss any spots. Always avoid inhaling, applying in heavy winds, or applying near smoke or flames. Be sure to reapply regularly—that means at least every two hours.

If you want to really ensure protection, Huffstetler has a pro tip. "Layering is caring,” he says. "Especially helpful with kids and on the go. I like to start with a base layer of lotion, and then dedicate my spray to reapplication throughout the day.” This is also a good way to treat face sunscreens—it’s best to start with a lotion base and refresh with spray throughout the day, particularly if you’re wearing makeup. See below for our absolute favorite spray sunscreens (that really work!).


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The best body sunscreen sprays:


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The best face sunscreen sprays:

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Associate Beauty Editor

Katie Berohn is the associate beauty editor at Who What Wear. Previously, she worked as the beauty assistant for Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and Prevention magazines, all part of the Hearst Lifestyle Group. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a major in journalism and minor in technology, arts, and media, and earned her master's degree at NYU's graduate program for magazine journalism. In addition, Katie has held editorial internships at Denver Life magazine, Yoga Journal, and Cosmopolitan; a digital editorial internship at New York magazine's The Cut; a social good fellowship at Mashable; and a freelance role at HelloGiggles. When she's not obsessing over the latest skincare launch or continuing her journey to smell every perfume on the planet, Katie can be found taking a hot yoga class, trying everything on the menu at New York's newest restaurant, or hanging out at a trendy wine bar with her friends.