Spray-on sunscreen versus lotion: which is better?

We all know we should use sunscreen to help ward off the harmful rays of the sun. Sometimes there are so many choices, however, that it’s hard to know where to start. At the most basic level, there are lotions (the old stand-by) and the newer sprays and spray lotions. Do they do the same job? Do they both give the same amount of coverage and protection? There are lots of articles out there that go into the science of the debate, which I (not being qualified to) will not do here. But people tend to have a great deal to say about which sunscreen they like better (just ask—there are some pretty big opinions out there!).

For your skin, lotion might be the better way to go. To me, the sprays tend to lose at least 75% of their liquid to every chance wind that gusts up right when you hit the button. But sprays undeniably go on faster. But what’s in them? Lots of chemicals and questionable ingredients that may provoke a negative reaction. Not that lotion is any better—it’s goopy and white and “takes FOR-EVER, MOM” and is hardly attractive. So after sifting through several blog posts and discussion posts on forums about the issue, I have boiled it down to the major pros and cons for each (as told by others).

 

Sunscreen lotion pros and cons

Sunscreen sprays pros and cons

So which is better? I’d say that whatever works for you and your family is the better choice. And there are, as I mentioned before, lots of studies and reviews to help you choose:

Environmental Working Group list of Best Sunscreens

Environmental Working Group sunscreen report

9 truths about sunscreen

And here’s a list of lotion-based, chemical and hormone-free sunscreens

In the end, whichever route you choose, there are a few rules of thumb when dealing with sun exposure:

  1. 1. Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes prior to sun exposure, to give the ingredients a chance to activate.
  2. 2. Cover every inch of exposed skin (I know lots of people who apply it naked before dressing, to avoid missing those little slices of skin at your clothing lines).
  3. 3. Reapply regularly (every 2-3 hours at most—more often if swimming or sweating profusely).

Other pro tips:

  • Cover with lotion in the morning, then reapply with spray during the day (because it’s quicker).
  • Remember to get the back of your neck, your ears, your hands and feet (even the soles, if you’re planning on lying on your tummy for any length of time), and very carefully under all the hems of your clothing.
  • If you begin to feel over hot, or if your skin turns a markedly different color when you press your finger into it, get into the shade for a little bit and drink some water!

As much as possible, wear protective clothing to block as much sun as you can: hats, shirts, and loose clothing.

Which do you prefer? Spray or lotion? We had the discussion in the office, and everyone has an opinion and a reason! What are yours??

 

2 Comments so far

  1. Holly Welker November 29th, 2011 2:35 pm

    I agree with the following statements shown on your website. I am currently conducting an experiment based on the effect of spray and lotion sunscreen. My hypothesis is based upon my opinion of the outcome. I personally prefer spray sunscreen to lotion sunscreen. Scientifically, I think that the lotion sunscreen will be the best in preventing skin from burn. Thank you for letting me speak my opinion and I praise your website for allowing me to gain knowledge on this subject, this will surely improve the reassurance of my project’s outcome. If you have any suggesting ideas that will help me in the future please email me.

    -Holly

  2. Bert Mckay February 8th, 2013 11:30 am

    great website

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