Are Any Spray Sunscreens Safe? A Look at the Research
Written by: the Editors of goop
Published on: August 20, 2019
Updated on: April 15, 2023
The convenience of spray sunscreens—even clean sunscreens—isn’t worth the risk, as far as we’re concerned. “Small particles of the spray can get deep into the lungs and cause irreversible damage,” says Nneka Leiba, the vice president of healthy living science at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that assesses the health effects of chemical exposure from day-to-day products.
Even titanium dioxide, inert and harmless on the surface of your skin, has been shown to be toxic if inhaled. In fact, if inhaled, it is considered by the International Agency of Research for Cancer to be a possible carcinogen. (Research is inconclusive about the long-term effects of breathing in zinc oxide, the other option in mineral SPF.) So even clean physical sunscreens aren’t safe if they’re sprays.
Fortunately, clean, mineral-only SPF lotions, balms, creams, and sticks are benefiting from new tech that makes putting them on (even on squirming children) a whole lot easier.
5 Great SPF Alternatives to Spray
for Face and BodyThe Organic Pharmacy
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Antioxidant Serum-CreamVive Sana
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(with a Subtle Matte Finish)Naturopathica
Daily UV Defense
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Coconut-Oil-Based Surf MudEIR NYC
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Sunscreen Stick SPF 30
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For safe sun protection, Leiba and EWG advise using only nonspray, clean, nontoxic, mineral SPF formulas. Clean SPF, of course, also doesn’t contain the laundry list of potentially hormone-disrupting, irritating, coral-killing substances that chemical sunscreens legally can and do. (You can gauge whether a mineral sunscreen is purely mineral by checking the active ingredients box; it should list zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide only. You can read more about the many reasons to avoid chemical sunscreens here.)
But even beyond those health concerns, sprays can be a less-reliable barrier against UV rays, since it’s harder to assess how much you’re really getting onto your skin (versus losing to the wind). “We don’t recommend any spray sunscreens,” says Leiba.
To hear more from Nneka Leiba on mineral sunscreens—and on clean, nontoxic beauty; her work at EWG; and more—listen to her episode of the Beauty Closet podcast here: