How to use stick and spray sunscreens

Sunscreen is a vital tool in the fight against skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form. 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. For many families, especially those with young children, this often includes stick and spray sunscreens in addition to lotions.

Sticks are easy for under the eyes and the backs of the hands, while spray sunscreens are often easier to apply on children. However, it’s important to take precautions when using stick and spray sunscreens to ensure the best protection for you and your family.

As with lotion sunscreens, dermatologists recommend looking for sticks and sprays that are broad-spectrum, water-resistant, and have an SPF of 30 or higher. 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.

For the best protection with stick sunscreen, dermatologists recommend the following tips:

  1. For each area of skin you’re protecting, apply four passes back and forth. Doing this will help ensure that you’re using enough sunscreen to be protected.

  2. Rub it in afterwards for an even layer of coverage.

To safely and adequately use spray sunscreen, dermatologists recommend these tips:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Avoid using spray sunscreen on windy days. These conditions make it more difficult to apply the sunscreen and easier to accidentally inhale it.

  5. Never apply 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.

Since no sunscreen blocks 100 percent of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, it’s also important to seek shade and wear protective clothing whenever possible, including a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection.

No matter what type of sunscreen you use, make sure you reapply it every two hours when outdoors or immediately after swimming or sweating. If you have questions about which type of sunscreen to use for you and your family, ask a board-certified dermatologist for help.


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