Convenient spray sunscreens may come with allergy risks

Let’s go back to the basics.  In the old days we had more ozone protecting us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun, wrinkles and of course skin cancers.  Now more than ever it’s important to have a proactive sun protection plan in place. My colleague Dr. Henry Lim has often said, “the best sunscreen is one you will use again and again, so be sure to choose one that offers broad-spectrum protection, has an SPF of 30 or higher and is generally water-resistant.”

Individuals who wish to protect their skin often make choices based upon the type of preparation such as oils, pastes, creams, lotions and gels. More recently there has been a trend toward a variety of sunscreen spray products.  In fact, the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is investigating the inherent risks and health concern of using a “spray” product.  As an allergist, I am also concerned with “inhaling” a spray sunscreen, or any aerosol, if you already have allergies and/or asthma, as the airways and respiratory passages are likely more sensitive.  Any irritant or aerosol particle inhaled can trigger respiratory symptoms such as cough and/or asthma.

Consumer Reports has even gone further and recommended, “While the FDA completes its analysis, spray sunscreen products should generally not be used by or on children.” They also suggest that if no other product is available, to avoid spraying on or around the face or mouth when using them.  The question is whether spraying the sunscreen on your hands and then applying it on your skin will reduce the “misting” or inhalation of the chemicals.  Additionally, the FDA has also become aware of incidents in which spray sunscreen products resulted in burns when they are used near a flame source.

Bottom line: Sunscreens are an extremely valuable and useful product that can certainly reduce exposure of harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. Thanks to their UVA-blocking effects, they may also help prevent wrinkles. Remember, another big mistake is to not use enough— the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using at least one ounce of sunscreen to cover all sun-exposed areas. 

Remember, one in five of us will be diagnosed with skin cancer, so be prepared this summer and use your sunscreen, especially on high UV index days. 

Dr. Clifford Bassett is an adult and pediatric allergy specialist, and diplomat of the American Board of Allergy and Immunology. He is the medical director of Allergy and Asthma Care of NY.  Bassett is a clinical assistant professor of medicine and on the teaching faculty of NYU School of Medicine and NYU Langone Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of Medicine and Otolaryngology at SUNY LICH. Follow him on Twitter.