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Hidden risks in using spray sunscreen for kids

Consumer Reports released a warning last month not

Consumer Reports released a warning last month not to use spray sunscreens on or around children, which comes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2011 revised sunscreen guidelines pointed out that there was not sufficient data about sprays, as compared to lotions, oils and creams. (Credit: AP)

Think before you spray this summer. Your spray-on sunscreen may pose some hidden risks.

Consumer Reports released a warning last month not to use spray sunscreens on or around children, which comes after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2011 revised sunscreen guidelines pointed out that there was not sufficient data about sprays, as compared to lotions, oils and creams. The FDA called for further research into spray sunscreen’s effectiveness and possible risks, and the data is currently under review, accordingt to FDA spokesman Jeff Ventura. Though the administration has yet to release any conclusions, Consumer Reports recently advised against spraying kids for the time being.

“In general we always have discouraged the sprays or encouraged patients to use extreme caution,” says Dr. Jeffrey Ellis, of Belaray Dermatology in Plainview and an attending dermatologist at North Shore-LIJ.


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The FDA, which is charged with regulating sunscreens, tests ingredients to make sure all those that go into a bottle are safe. However, Ellis said they are tested and approved only for topical application. In other words, “when they test the safety of these chemicals, they assume they [the chemicals] are not entering the body.”

Sunscreen sits on the skin and certain ingredients make it adhere to the surface so that sweat and water don’t wash it completely clean, but it doesn’t actually get absorbed into the body. “It’s not tested to be inhaled,” Ellis says. “Similarly it’s not tested to be put on an open cut or rash.”

Until the FDA publishes its findings on whether breathing in any of its ingredients causes harm, Ellis and Consumer Reports say spray sunscreen shouldn’t be used on children because of the possibility that they could easily inhale the airborne particles.

In July 2013, the FDA warned of a different hazard of spray sunscreen — it is flammable and should never be applied near an open flame, or worn too close to a fire source even once it seems dry. The FDA cited five cases in which wearers were burned — while lighting a cigarette, lingering by a citronella candle or walking toward a barbecue. Read more here.

In its tips for proper use, Consumer Reports also pointed out that those who apply spray sunscreen should be more diligent about fully covering the skin because it may float away with a breeze. It’s usually more effective to spray sunscreen on your hands and then rub it in, the company reports.

But Ellis stressed that warnings about one form of sunscreen should not deter people from using it altogether.

“Sun exposure and damage is cumulative, and damage you get when you’re younger plays a much bigger role,” he said, adding that protecting against the sun is always important, but especially for children.

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