The Best Sunscreen Sprays, According to Dermatologists

How many times have you been stocking up on all the necessities for your next beach trip or tropical getaway, and found yourself wondering if you should go with a lotion or spray sunscreen?

While lotions seem to be the safest bet—the infamous white cast allows you to see where you’ve already slathered it, so you don’t miss a spot—sunscreen sprays are preferred by many because they’re easy to apply, are less messy than creams, and help cover those hard-to-reach places, like your back.

The downside? While most of us want to believe we know how to apply sunscreen correctly, more of the product often ends up in the air than on our skin. This sub-par application can increase your risk of sunburn and exposure to ultraviolet radiation, explains Rachel Nazarian, MD, a New York-based dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

In order for these sprays to be effective, you have to make sure you’re picking the best ones and using them properly. Choose sunscreen sprays labeled ‘broad spectrum,’ which shield your skin from both UVA and UVB rays, and select those with high SPF levels (at least SPF 30), Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Health.

Debra Jaliman, MD, a dermatologist based in New York City, also recommends looking for options that are more water-resistant (80 minutes of water resistance is better than 40, for example), and contain zinc oxide. And you may have seen the dual sunscreen and bug spray products that promise to minimize packing on hiking or camping trips by offering a two-in-one spray—but Dr. Jaliman actually recommends against these because the combination can decrease the effectiveness of sunscreen by 40%. Yikes.

It’s also important to consider how you’re applying sunscreen. Dr. Zeichner advises holding the can or bottle one inch from your skin and spraying until it glistens. As for your face, spray sunscreen into your hand first and then gently rub it over your face and ears (this will reduce your risk of inhalation of any gases or propellants), he adds.

Ready for the best sunscreen sprays that dermatologists can’t get enough of? Here, nine options that will protect you—and give you peace of mind—during your next outdoor adventure.

Okay, first things first: What does “natural” even mean when it comes to products? It’s a vague term, but in most cases it implies that it’s made with minimally-modified ingredients found in nature (like plants or minerals, for example), according to Birnur Aral, Ph.D. and Director of the Health, Beauty and Environmental Sciences Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

And the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate natural claims, so the term itself doesn’t really mean anything concrete. When it comes to sun protection, natural usually refers to physical sunscreens that use minerals to block UV rays or sunscreens that don’t include oxybenzone (an ingredient that can affect hormones and allergies in humans and has been found to cause coral bleaching and coral death).

ICYMI: The FDA recently proposed new sunscreen regulations that state only two ingredients (both minerals) are generally recognized as safe and effective (GRASE): zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They also announced that 12 chemical ingredients require more data before they can be deemed safe and effective.

The GH Institute agrees that some of these active ingredients have raised concerns. “The FDA is currently reevaluating its position on the safety and efficacy of certain chemical sunscreen actives,” says Dr. Aral. “Until they reach a more robust conclusion in late 2019, we are recommending some mineral formulas that we’ve found to be effective against sunburn during our testing with consumers that also are cosmetically pleasing, and some that are brand new in the market that we personally like.”

Ahead, you’ll find 11 sunscreens — some tested by our Beauty Lab and others included on the Environmental Working Group’s list of safe sunscreens — that are your best bet for natural, organic, or mineral-based sun protection.

SPF 30 Sport Mineral Sunscreen Spray, 6 oz.

  1. It Works Well

    Posted by Unknown on Mar 13th 2019

    I bought both the lotion and the spray. I personally like the lotion better. The spray to me was hard to put on and get off. It left a white residue and it tended to needed to scrubbed off at night. It worked well to keep the sun away, but you saw it. I had my mom spray it on my back and she initially used to little because it came out so white. I didn’t like the spray in hand method. I felt I didn’t have the same coverage. Make sure you reapply as recommended like any other sunscreen. I felt the burn of the Caribbean sun when I was in the water for 3+ hours. I also found the spray left a white film on my swimsuit where the lotion didn’t.

  2. Easy On

    Posted by Unknown on Aug 27th 2018

    Easier and faster application, especially for hairy arms and legs.

  3. Better than most sprays

    Posted by Unknown on Aug 7th 2018

    I love the eco friendliness, but it is a little sticky. Sprays on quick and runs in better than other zinc products. Not oily at all

  4. Love it!

    Posted by Unknown on Aug 6th 2018

    Easy to apply, rubs in better than most mineral based sunscreen. Effective at ocean

  5. Easy to use

    Posted by Unknown on Apr 19th 2018

    I bought this for my adult son, again. He likes that he can put it on his hairy arms and 2 day facial hair without it getting all gloppy.

  6. Best Ever!

    Posted by godiva on Apr 22nd 2017

    After over 40 years as a raft guide on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon, I know a bit about sunscreens. This stuff is absolutely perfect. Easy to spray a non drippy glob into your hands and rub on face, ears, neck, etc. Haven’t tried spraying directly on skin because it is so easy to regulate and use putting on your palms first. It goes on dry and stays dry, no grease, no sticky mess, and no WHITE! A tiny bit, maybe but I am kind of embracing the porcelain skin look as opposed to the white/grey usual appearance of my face and skin with most zinc products. Does it work in water? Yep, so far my max immersion–kayaking for 3 hours in high water so lots of immersion/splashing it stays on and works. No redness, no burn, no reapplying. Like I said, this stuff is perfect. I love All Good, love this sunscreen and love that it is good for the environment as a non aerosol spray. The top locks shut so you won’t accidentally spray it anywhere. Would love to see it in a smaller bottle that is more portable for what I do. For my PFD I use the butter in a tin which is also great, but this stuff!!!!!

The Best Facial SPF Mists You’ll Actually Want to Wear

Aside from ‘which SPF is for me?’, the other most frequently-asked sun protection question I receive is ‘which SPF will I actually want to wear?’. Even though it seems like a no-brainer shield your skin from damage-inducing UV rays, for many daily sun protection is still, well… a chore. SPF has a little bit of a PR problem.

It’s easy to see why when you consider how a lot of us are used to staying protected in the sun. Think about the sun lotions you were slathered with as a child; that rich and greasy stuff left you looking bright white all over, no matter how hard you tried to rub it in. It’s a tired image, though, because sun protection has come such a long way. It’s had to keep up with the demanding skincare needs of those who wear SPF on a daily basis, thanks in part to the rise of peels, AHA (alpha hydroxy acid) and retinol usage. Today, men and women require something that provides high protection, is easy and quick to apply, and doesn’t feel heavy or sticky; something that seamlessly slots into their skincare regime.

To suit, there’s a new school of products that meet all of this criteria and more. Meet the discreet, comfortable and user-friendly facial SPFs that you’ll actually want to wear…

#1 The All-Rounder

Vichy Ideal Soleil Solar Protective Water – Hydrating SPF30 200ml

Perfect for: Both face and body

The Solar Protective Water from Vichy’s Ideal Soleil line is a complete revelation for those who dread applying sun protection. It truly feels like you’re spritzing water onto your skin, with zero residue and an invisible finish. It’s the ‘wettest’ of the three spray-on SPFs included in this round-up, but it by no means saturates the skin; the diffusion system ensures that application is delivered in a fine mist that is readily absorbed in mere seconds. An added infusion of every hydration craver’s favourite ingredient, hyaluronic acid, keeps everything feeling plump and soft.

To use the Ideal Soleil Solar Protective Water as a facial SPF, you need to spray it onto your hands first and then apply it to the skin, so it’s perhaps a better match for those who are going makeup-free (there are other products below that may be a better match for makeup wearers!). You’re free to spritz it straight on everywhere else on the body, though – it’s particularly good for keeping exposed areas like your decollete, hands, feet and arms well defended, but it’s just as good when used as your main, all-over sun protection.

#2 The Shine-Free Saviour

La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-Shine Invisible Fresh Mist Spray SPF50 75ml

Perfect for: The face

With its SPF of 50+, La Roche-Posay Anthelios Anti-Shine Invisible Fresh Mist Spray has the highest protection of any facial SPF mist on our list. The ultra-fresh, shine-free spray is the perfect sunny day solution for those who want minimal interference from their sun protection; it can be used on bare skin or on top of makeup to achieve a brilliant shield. The powdery finish of the Anthelios Anti-Shine Invisible Fresh Mist Spray is perfect for those with normal, combination and oily skin types, but those with very dry skin might find it a little lacking in the moisture department. That being said, it’ll work harmoniously with most skin types.

The slim, 75ml size of the can is perfect for travel and has an aerosol application method that creates a large, fine mist that protects skin in seconds. Its powdery finish also makes it brilliant for setting your makeup and ensuring it doesn’t slide in the sun!

#3 The Tall Drink of Water

Bioderma Hydrabio Eau de Soin Anti-UV Mist SPF30 50ml

Perfect for: The face

If you’ve got very dry skin, like I have (I can’t even wear powder without my skin feeling like sandpaper!), then this quenching facial SPF mist from Bioderma will be your saviour. The Hydrabio Eau de Soin Anti-UV Mist SPF30 is part of the super-hydrating Hydrabio line, which is a brilliant collection for those who need a little bit of extra help in the moisture department. This hybrid product offers antioxidant, UV and moisturising protection in one step, spraying onto the complexion in a fresh and invisible mist that makes skin feel so content. And there’s good news for sensitive skin, too – it has excellent tolerance, so expect zero itchiness and discomfort.

Mist this handbag-sized facial SPF on at any time of day, onto bare skin or over makeup (makeup can even be touched up after spraying). It’s such an effortless way to slot protection into your daily routine – it’s a city dweller’s essential. Tip: some people have reported that the spray mechanism can become clogged over time – if you pop the spray off and run it under warm water, it should clear it right up!

Discover More

Ask The Expert: Sun Protection

The New Wear To Wear Suncare

  • Spray sunscreens work effectively if you apply correctly: Spray until you see it on the skin, rub it in afterward, and reapply often.
  • Never spray sunscreen directly into your face and avoid inhaling it.
  • If you can, use lotion on kids, but some SPF if always better than no SPF.

If you’ve ever had to coat a squirmy, wriggly kid with sunblock, then you’ve probably joined Team Spray Sunscreen, the seemingly easier way for applying SPF to even the most impatient person (including yourself).

In fact, people now buy aerosol cans almost as much as lotions, according to a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. But do the sprays really work as well as the traditional sunblock? They can — but only if you’re using them the right way, says Raman Madan, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist with Northwell Health.

Get all your spray sunscreen questions answered below — plus, our top picks from the Good Housekeeping Institute.

Is spray-on sunscreen effective?

Yes, spray sunscreen will protect your skin from harmful UV rays and sun damage — but only if you apply enough. While spray sunscreens go on easily enough, it’s harder to know if you’ve put on an adequate amount.

“It is not that spray sunscreen does not work as well as lotions, the issue is that a lot of spray sunscreen needs to be applied to get the same benefit,” Dr. Madan says. “If you apply an SPF 45 spray for 2-3 seconds, you only get realistically SPF 10-12 protection.

It’s less surprising then that while 99% of 540 dermatologists surveyed recommended sunscreen to their patients, only 69% recommend sprays, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology.

Sunblock lotions have clear usage guidelines that are harder to replicate with a spray bottle: Adults should use at least 1 ounce every 2 hours — about a shot-glass-size amount, plus a nickel-sized dollop for the face alone.

That means a 6-ounce bottle of spray sunscreen should last you only six applications. To make sure you’re using enough, Dr. Madan advises spraying each area for about 6 seconds or until it looks white.

Is spray sunscreen bad for kids?

naumoidGetty Images

It depends on what you have on hand, but stick with lotions over sprays if possible. “I generally avoid recommending spray sunscreen in children because of the risk of inhalation of particles,” Dr. Madan says. “In the end, we always remind patients than spray sunscreen is always better than no sunscreen.”

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) warns against inhaling spray sunscreen because current U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations do not apply to to spray sunscreens, although the FDA does evaluate the products for safety and effectiveness.

When You Shouldn’t Use Spray Sunscreen

Spray sunscreen isn’t always the best choice for adults, either. Here’s when to pick lotion instead, according to the AAD:

  • On windy days: The goal is to get the SPF on you, not your towel (or in your lungs), so stick to lotion or sticks if possible.
  • When you’re near heat or fire: Sunscreens in aerosol form can be flammable. Don’t spray near grills, candles, lit cigarettes, or open flames, and make sure your skins is thoroughly dry before approaching any sources of fire .

Are you supposed to rub in spray-on sunscreen?

Yep, you’re going to need to rub it in afterward to get the full effect. When you’re ready to apply, first head outside. Never spray sunscreen indoors as it can impact the air quality and make floors very slippery, says Birnur Aral, Ph.D., Director of the Health, Beauty & Environmental Sciences Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute.

Hold the nozzle close to your skin and spray until you can see it on the skin, the AAD recommends. Then rub the SPF all around to ensure you didn’t miss any spots.

If you’re worried about missing spots (same!) but love the convenience of the sprays, try a combo of regular sunblock and aerosols.”Apply lotion at home, but when you’re at the beach you can layer on top with spray and repeat every two hours,” Dr. Aral says. As always, further shield your skin by seeking out shade and wearing protective clothing when possible.

How do you apply spray sunscreen on your face?

Because of the risk of inhalation, never spray sunscreen near your face or mouth, the AAD advises. If you’re caught lotion or stick-less, spray the sunscreen generously onto your hands first, and then rub it into your face.

Next time, try this Lab pick for face sunscreens: Aveeno Protect + Hydrate Face Moisturizing Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50. It’s infused with soothing oatmeal and scored points among our testers with sensitive skin.

What is the best spray-on sunscreen?

Banana Boat SunComfort Ultra Mist Broad Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50 amazon.com $9.23

The Good Housekeeping Institute likes Banana Boat SunComfort Clear UltraMist Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50+, which tied for first place with a lotion in our most recent tests. The spray received the highest scores in absorbency, texture, and overall satisfaction from our testers, who loved the “lightweight” formula.

We also like Neutrogena CoolDry Sport Sunscreen Spray Broad Spectrum SPF 50. One tester training for a three-day, 60-mile walk used it daily for 5-10 mile walks in the 80-100°F sun and reported she would use it again on her own.

Caroline Picard Health Editor Caroline is the Health Editor at GoodHousekeeping.com covering nutrition, fitness, wellness, and other lifestyle news.

How to use stick and spray sunscreens

It’s important to take precautions when using stick and spray sunscreens to ensure the best protection for you and your family. Follow these tips from board-certified dermatologists to safely and adequately apply 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% of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, it’s also important to seek shade and wear protective clothing whenever possible, including a 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.

Related AAD resources

  • How to apply sunscreen

  • How to decode sunscreen labels

  • How to select a sunscreen

  • How do I know if I’m using the right sunscreen?

  • Quiz: Is your sunscreen really protecting you?

This is not the way to apply sunscreen. Photo: Joe Robbins (Getty)

I love sunscreen. I wear it everyday—even in the winter, even when it’s overcast. Applying sunscreen regularly is one of the few things you can do to directly prevent cancer (skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US). It’s also the best anti-aging product you can use. Do you know why older skin gets dull, wrinkled, and spotted? It’s because of years of exposure to the sun.

But there is one sunscreen I do not love: spray sunscreen. Spray sunscreen takes everything that is good and holy about sunscreen and destroys it. Lotion sunscreen gives you a small element of control and security in this chaotic world; spray sunscreen merely introduces more chaos.

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Let’s start with the reason most people claim to like spray sunscreen: It’s more convenient. Is it, though? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the only way to get proper coverage when using a spray sunscreen is to spray your skin until it looks very wet, then rub the product in with your hands. And you’re never supposed to spray it directly toward your face or head—the instructions on the bottle say to spray it into your hands, and then apply to face. How is any of this more convenient than simply squeezing some lotion into your hands, or directly onto an arm or leg, and rubbing that in? Either way, your hands are getting sticky.

Further, when you use spray sunscreen, at least half of the product is being lost to the wind. You know it’s true.

People have a lot of complaints about sunscreen: “It’s greasy. It’s stings my eyes. It stains my clothes. It smells weird.” Does spray sunscreen truly solve any of these problems? Does pressurizing the product and blasting it as a fine aerosol toward your most sensitive mucus membranes really improve the situation?

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Perhaps the most serious concern about spray sunscreen is its safety. Health officials are reasonably confident that most of the sunscreen chemicals approved for use in the US are safe to rub on our skin. However, not much research has been done on whether those same chemicals—along with the propellants and other fillers added to the products—are safe to inhale. The Food and Drug Administration is supposed to review the safety of spray sunscreens, but it has yet to complete its work. Consumer Reports, which tests popular sunscreens every year, recommends against using spray sunscreen on children due to the risk of inhalation.

Indeed, the American Academy of Dermatology says to “avoid inhaling spray sunscreen.” But how exactly can you avoid inhaling something that you are spraying in a huge cloud over your entire body? And what about the people around you? How long can you hold your breath?

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Oh yeah, and spray sunscreen is freaking flammable. Personally, I would rather just get a sunburn than literally be on fire.

I spoke with California-based dermatologist Ivy Lee, who told me she shares my disdain for spray sunscreen. She said that so many people use all sunscreens improperly (by not applying enough, not rubbing it in, and not reapplying frequently) that her clients often get sunburned even through they used sunscreen. And that’s even more common for the spray-on variety.

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“Do I prefer sunscreen spray over nothing? Yes, I do,” said Lee. “But there are so many options that are available to us—there are much safer options than using sunscreen sprays.”

Lee’s favorite sunscreens are the mineral-based kind, which use zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide to stop UV rays from causing free-radical damage in the skin (as opposed to the so-called chemical sunscreens, which in the US mostly include avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone). Mineral sunscreens generally won’t sting eyes or irritate sensitive skin—and they rarely come in spray-on form. But Lee acknowledged that some people just really want to use spray sunscreen, and she has some advice for them.

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“The only times when I really talk about spray sunscreens is if people are really excited and adamant about the convenience,” she said. “I tell them to put on a good even base layer of cream or lotion sunscreen, and then use spray to reapply. If the alternative is not reapplying, that’s when I’m okay with sunscreen sprays.”

Many dermatologists say, “the best sunscreen is the one you’ll use every day,” and Lee agrees. Spray-on products are certainly better than nothing for people who otherwise refuse to use sunscreen, or for people who have a physical limitation that makes spray sunscreen the only practical option.

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I know there are parents out there who say the only way to get any sunscreen at all on their squirmy children is to use a spray. But Lee has a tip for you, too! She recommends using sunscreen sticks and teaching children to apply their own sunscreen by using the sticks to draw geometric shapes on their skin and then rubbing it in. Sunscreen sticks are also less likely to run into the eyes, because they have a thicker consistency.

“With kids, the sticks are very helpful in terms of building that self-efficacy, building a sunscreen habit,” Lee said. “Have the kids be active participants in their sun safety. It’s also something that’s easy to take with them in their backpacks, or to camp.”

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But Lee, like all dermatologists, recommends doing more than just applying sunscreen to avoid sunburns, wrinkles, and skin cancer. Wear hats and other protective clothing, and seek shade when you can. And the sunscreen you do use should be labeled “broad spectrum” and be at least an SPF 30.

Okay, surely you now agree with me that spray sunscreen is the worst. But you’re still unhappy about having sticky, greasy sunscreen hands while trying to enjoy a day outdoors. I have the solution: wet wipes! Rub yourself down with sunscreen lotion—and note that you need a half-teaspoon of product for the face and neck and a full shot-glass worth of product for the whole body—and then use a wet wipe to clean off your hands. (But not the backs of your hands—they need sunscreen, too.) Brilliant, right?

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Happy fourth of July.

Update: Added additional information to emphasize that spray sunscreen is better than no sunscreen at all.

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The best spray sunscreen

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