There are three types of sunscreen: lotions, sticks and sprays. Each offers varying advantages during application. Lotions, especially ones packed with moisturizing properties, can be rubbed onto the face and neck. Sticks work well to touch-up larger patches of skin and on odd spots — behind ears and on the back of hands. Sprays service those seeking allover protection. Yes, there are definite rules to follow when using them in order to be properly protected from UVB and UVA rays — see below for a breakdown on both — but they prove best for those prepping for the sun solo, reapplying on the sand or for once you're already sweaty.
Sunscreen sprays aren't your way out of lathering up though. "Most adults need at least one ounce of sunscreen — about enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover the body," The American Academy of Dermatology Association says. Estimating this amount is harder with a spray but doable still. "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."
But it isn't enough to just coat the skin. Using an up-close, back and forth motion, go over areas four times. After your skin's reached the point of glistening, you should still rub the solution in, spreading it where droplets might not have reached. Sprayable sunscreens can be redirected by wind, so be sure to apply it in a place free from a breeze — like a bathroom. You also should avoid, unless the brand specifically says so, applying a sunscreen spray directly to the face or across your lips. Inhaling or ingesting them, the AADA says, is unsafe. Instead, you should spray a concentrated amount into your hands and use them to apply it evenly across the cheek bones, forehead and nose, behind the ears and into the scalp, too.
As with all other types of sunscreens, sprays should be reapplied every two hours if you're idle or every hour if you're active — i.e. in water, sweating or in a situation where the sunscreen might've otherwise rubbed off. Sure, it all seems a bit tedious but diligence is the best way to protect yourself from future problems, and sprays make the process — especially getting the hard-to-reach parts of your back — at least a little bit easier. Shop our sunscreen spray selections below.
Best Overall Sunscreen Spray: Oars + Alps Hydrating Antioxidant SPF 50 Sunblock Spray
Oars and Alps' sprayable sunscreen promises to better for you and the environment. It's free from chemicals harmful to coral reefs and those (at least somewhat) toxic to us humans. Plus, it's packaged in a recyclable, non-aerosol can.
Best Upgrade Spray Sunscreen: Supergoop! PLAY Antioxidant-Infused SPF 50 Body Mist
Supergoop!'s PLAY spray is oxybenzone- and octinoxate-free and features added vitamin C and green tea and acai extracts. These additional ingredients offer benefits beyond sun protection, making this option the most above-and-beyond on this list — and it's reef-safe!
Best Affordable Spray Sunscreen: Public Goods SPF 50 Spray Sunscreen
This is definitely the best spray for its price. It's SPF 50, checks all of the same environmental boxes as the above options and goes on clear, courtesy of natural ingredients like aloe and avocado oil.
Terms to Know
UVA: Ultraviolet "A" rays can penetrate deep into the skin. This leads to premature aging, or “photoaging” — fine lines, wrinkles, leathery skin and sunspots.
UVB: Ultraviolet "B" rays are superficial and cause sunburn. They are also responsible for the formation of melanoma (skin cancer).
Broad Spectrum: If a sunscreen is "broad spectrum," it protects against both types of ultraviolet rays. You should only buy products that offer broad-spectrum protection.
SPF: Sun Protection Factor. So many sources will explain this in different ways, so it’s best to rely on the Skin Cancer Foundation’s overview: SPF measures the UVB protection of a sunscreen. (You can assume that UVA protection holds strong, while UVB defense wavers.) Unprotected skin takes 20 minutes to redden and burn in the sun, so an SPF 15 sunscreen or moisturizer will extend that 15 times longer, or roughly 5 hours. (You should play it safe and reapply after 2-3 hours, though.)
They also explain it in terms of percentages, which explains why you might experience more of a skin tan using SPF 15 than SPF 30: SPF 15 blocks about 93 percent of UVB rays during this time. SPF 30 doesn’t block double the rays; it simply ups the ante to 97 percent, whereas SPF 50 takes it to 98 percent.
Reef-Friendly (or Reef-Safe): There are two increasingly rare ingredients that contribute to coral bleaching. They're called oxybenzone and octinoxate. Reef-friendly sunscreens are free from both of them and many other potentially harmful chemicals.
Mineral Ingredients: Many SPF products use mineral ingredients to shield against the sun, primarily zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. They are physical ingredients that deflect UV rays, and they sometimes leave a chalky residue in their wake, and are better if you aren’t swimming or sweating, since they can bead up more easily.
Synthetic Ingredients: Other products use synthetic ingredients to deflect or deactivate UV rays. Although there are dozens, the main ones are octinoxate, octisalate, oxybenzone and avobenzone. They are lighter and thus more ideal for water activities and for fair skin. They absorb more quickly than mineral ingredients.
Banana Boat Ultra Sport SPF Sunscreen Spray
A few Amazon reviewers pointed out that Hawaiian beach protection patrollers have stopped them for carrying Banana Boat's Sport spray, which they say, is not actually reef-friendly. (It's illegal to use certain sunscreens in Hawaii and other parts of the world where coral reef have become impacted by coral bleaching.) But, the brand says it's A-OK — and it works well to protect your skin against sunburn.
Sun Bum Original SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray
Sun Bum's original formulation is another that moisturizes and offers sun protection simultaneously. This option features added vitamin E.
Hurley Water Resistant Broad Spectrum SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray
Yes, the surf brand makes its own sunscreen. (Smart, right?) It's reef-safe, broad-spectrum, SPF 30 and water-resistant up to 80 minutes.
Coppertone Pure Simple Mineral SPF 50 Sunscreen Spray
If you have sensitive skin, Coppertone's Pure Simple Mineral spray seems like your best bet. It's free from the usual irritants (for both you and the ocean): oxybenzone, octinoxate, PABA, parabens, phthalates, dyes, alcohol, sulfates and fragrances.
Coola Classic Organic SPF 50 Sunscreen Spray
Plant-derived ingredients are the foundation for Coola's organic spray. The formulation is packaged in a non-aerosol can and applies more like a mist than spray paint. It's pleasant to the touch and fragrance-free (but there's a scented option, too).
La Roche-Posay Anthelios Ultra Light SPF 60 Sunscreen Spray
This iteration proves oil- and alcohol-free, plus it spreads and absorbs both easily and quickly. You won't feel greasy or overly coated, but you'll experience the same SPF 60 protection.
Hawaiian Tropic Silk Hydration SPF 50 Spray Sunscreen
Dubbed "weightless," Hawaiian Tropic's option is SPF 50 and silky smooth. It promises long-lasting moisture — think the softness lent by lotion — and broad-spectrum protection.