Woman at beach uses aerosol spray to apply sunblock on her legs.

Safety Tips for Sunscreen Sprays

June 11, 2024

You're sitting behind someone at a ball game or relaxing on a crowded beach, when you hear the hiss: someone is spraying sunscreen, sending a cloud of aerosol into the air. While we know sunscreen is necessary protection against ultraviolet UV rays, it's hard not to wonder: are sprays the best way to apply?

We asked Victoria Piane, NP, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Columbia who specializes in pulmonology, about the impact of inhaling aerosol sunscreens. Here's what she said about the safest ways to choose and apply sprays.

What happens when you breathe in sunscreen?

Spray-on sunscreen can irritate the mouth, throat, and lungs if inhaled, and it may cause coughing. For those with asthma, inhalation of the chemical ingredients may trigger an attack.

Should we be concerned about the ingredients in sunscreen sprays?

Although data is limited, ongoing research has identified several ingredients and substances in sunscreens that could be unsafe, posing health risks from possible hormone disruption to certain cancers. In addition, studies have shown that many active sunscreen ingredients are absorbed into the bloodstream and can stay in the body for a long time, according to the FDA.

The FDA has tried to limit lung exposure to ingredients in sprays by regulating the size of particles that spray out of the containers.

What should everyone know about inhaling sunscreen?

To avoid increasing exposure to these chemicals by inhaling them, use a lotion, cream, or stick sunscreen, instead of spray. Also, choose mineral sunscreens, which have safer ingredients: zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.

What should you do if someone near you sprays sunscreen?

If a person nearby has already started to spray sunscreen, cover your mouth and nose, and move away from them.

What if the only sunscreen available is a spray?

UV radiation from the sun can cause cancer, so protection such as sunscreen is vital for your health. If you use a spray, minimize the amount of chemicals that could be inhaled by:

  • Keeping your distance from other people
  • Placing the nozzle close to the skin before pressing down so that more sunscreen lands on the body and less goes into the air
  • Spraying sunscreen into your hands and applying like a lotion
  • Never spraying directly onto the face
  • Never spraying around anyone with lung issues, like asthma or environmental allergies


Victoria Piane, NP, is a nurse practitioner at Columbia specializing in pediatric pulmonology.