Is aerosol sunscreen safe for you? Inhaling chemicals is a concern

Spraying on sunblock may be a convenient way to protect your family from the sun, but experts warn that inhaling the chemicals could trigger allergies, asthma and other concerns.

Applying sunscreen to your face and body is a must before heading in to the sun – it comes in lotions, sprays and gels. While they all contain similar ingredients, Canadian doctors say that spray sunscreen could lead to kids and adults inhaling certain chemicals.

“The concern is not so much the content of the sunscreen but more the potential for children to inhale the sunscreen,” Dr. Jeremy Friedman, a SickKids Hospital doctor and University of Toronto professor, said.

And it doesn’t just apply to spray-on sunblock. Other aerosol products, such as hair spray, are also on health officials’ radar.

“We know a lot of the ingredients are really good at blocking radiation and are safe when used in topical formations. But we don’t know what happens when you inhale them,” Dr. Asif Pirani, a Toronto-based plastic surgeon told Global News.

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Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the primary concerns, Pirani says. He said health officials are still learning about the potential carcinogenic and developmental risks that could be at play. Inhaling these ingredients could also irritate people with asthma.

Right now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is investigating aerosol sunscreens. In the meantime, consumers affairs experts in the U.S. are recommending against using the spray on kids until the FDA completes its analysis.

But don’t forgo sunscreen.

If the spray option is your only choice, the experts offer these tips:

  • Spray the sunscreen onto your hands and rub it on. Don’t spray the sunscreen right onto the body, and especially not directly onto the face.
  • Apply the sunscreen in a well-ventilated area. Don’t use them in small spaces – outdoors is probably your best bet.
  • Try not to use the spray on a windy day.
  • Make sure your kids aren’t squirming around so the product doesn’t get into their eyes or mouth.

You shouldn’t apply spray-on sunscreen in front of an open flame, Friedman warns.

“Be advised that if you are going to use an aerosol sunscreen, not to do it near an open flame or even near a cigarette for example because there have been very rare cases of people getting burns from that,” he said.

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Last year, Health Canada recalled Banana Boat sunscreen after its makers warned of a possibility that the product could ignite on the skin if consumers came in contact with an open flame or spark before the spray dried.

Spray-on sunscreens also make it difficult for users to tell how much they’ve applied and if they’ve missed a spot. More often than not, consumers don’t use them properly, Pirani said.

“You’re more likely to use a lot less just because people get just a little bit of spray on them, they think it’s enough. But you really need a nice, thick, even coating of it,” he said.

They need to be applied about 20 minutes before you head outside and then reapplied every two hours. If you jump into the pool, you need to reapply it again.

If you’re shopping for a sunblock for your kids, Friedman offers these suggestions: look for broad spectrum, which covers UVA and UVB, that it’s at least SPF 30, which provides about 93 per cent protection against the sun’s rays and that you’re applying it correctly.

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