Which is best for optimal sun protection — sprays or lotions?

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Q. I have a history of skin cancer, so I am careful with my sunscreen application. I recently heard that I should avoid spray sunscreens. Is that true?

A. Sunscreen use is highly recommended to help prevent skin damage from sun exposure. Spray sunscreens are popular because they are easy to apply and help cover hard-to-reach areas like the back and shoulders. However, they do raise a few concerns. One is the chance of inhaling some of the sunscreen ingredients or its propellant. The health risk from this is uncertain, but it may trigger asthma in susceptible men. The FDA has not specifically determined the health risks of inhaling sunscreen sprays, but recently advised not to use them near your face.

Most men do not use the proper amount of sunscreen — two to three tablespoons to cover your entire body. Spray sunscreen studies show that many people apply only one-quarter the needed amount. In order to achieve a sun protection factor (SPF) similar to a lotion or gel, you need to spray each body area for up to six seconds.

For guaranteed sun protection, you are probably better off using a lotion or gel. Also, don't forget these sunscreen tips: Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher and one that protects against both ultraviolet A and B rays; apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours; and don't forget your ears, the back of your neck, and your scalp if you have thinning hair.

— by William Kormos, M.D.
Editor in Chief, Harvard Men's Health Watch

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