Uriel Sinai/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Here's What You Really Need To Know About Sunscreen Spray Vs. Sunscreen Lotion

True story: as I type this, I am scratching my chest and back vigorously, gone scaly and dry from the effects of a sunburn that I developed on Sunday at the beach. While I did use sunscreen, I apparently did not use enough or reapply at the right time, because I am currently living my life as a sun-dried tomato. I used a spray sunscreen, and it has me wondering about the differences in sunscreen spray versus lotion and if it could have made a difference in my current predicament.

The primary difference between sunscreen spray versus lotion is the ease and convenience of a spray. People love them because they're easy to apply, fast, and go on evenly. However, Dr. Kevin Carter of the Greater Baltimore Medical Center said in a YouTube video that while they're incredibly convenient and fast, you must be particularly careful when using them. Because you don't necessarily perceive if you've sprayed every area, or if it's fully absorbed, you might have gaps in your coverage or areas that aren't as well saturated with SPF. The benefit of a lotion is that you are physically tending to each part of your body, rubbing the lotion onto the surface, and watching it be absorbed into the skin.

I love the spray sunscreen because it's so much easier for me to use than the lotions. I have a partially paralyzed hand, and can use it more easily than I can the lotions or creams. My non-dominant hand isn't particularly useful for things like washing my hair or rubbing in lotions, so the idea that I can apply a spray and walk away is helpful. And I'm not alone. According to a report by the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, the use of spray sunscreens is way, way up in the past 10 years. In fact, it has multiplied its share of the market many times over.

There is some concern with the product, though. If it's just a spray, will you use enough and often enough? Strangely enough, according to a study in Cosmetics, the ease of application and speed of the sprays mean you're actually more likely to reapply, and apply liberally than you would with a lotion. Researchers wrote, "With an easy-to-apply aerosol spray dosage form, consumers may be inclined to apply a higher dosage and reapply more frequently. This clinical study is among the first to confirm that modern, state-of-the-art sunscreen sprays provide excellent sunburn protection under actual-use conditions at beach." Although it's worth noting that the study was paid for by manufacturer of many spray sunscreens, Johnson and Johnson, so a bit of caution should be added to your reading.

The one thing about sunscreen sprays versus lotions is that most lotions are considered safe for everyone. As for the sprays, Consumer Reports still hesitates to recommend them for children because of the risk of the inhalation of chemicals and minerals from the aerosolized sunscreens. Not to mention that they are extremely flammable when being applied given the propellants needed to have them spray from an aerosol can. For this very reason, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers not to apply them near any open flames.

This year's Consumer Reports' Guide for sunscreens does include a few sprays, but primarily, they continue to support and recommend basic, broad-spectrum sunscreen lotions that contain both chemical and physical sunblocks in an SPF of 40 or higher. In the end, you'll have to do what works for you, and apparently I will have to apply more often and perhaps pick a sunscreen spray from the list of acceptable candidates off of the Consumer Reports guide. I may also need a bigger umbrella to be extra safe.