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Aerosol sunscreens less reliable than creams and lotions

17 December 2020

ARPANSA and the Cancer Council of Victoria have cautioned Australians to reconsider aerosol sunscreens for UV protection.

The advice comes after a recent study conducted by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) found that it is extremely difficult to get good levels of UV protection from aerosol products, leaving users at risk of sunburn under Australia’s strong UV rays.

‘Aerosol sunscreens contain liquid propellent mixed with sunscreen, so it is difficult to know how much sunscreen is actually being dispensed with each spray,” said Director of Assessment and Advice for ARPANSA, Dr Rick Tinker.

The research, which looked at the top nine commercially available aerosol sunscreen products, showed that the spray times required to achieve full body protection ranged from 29 to 98 seconds.

“The aerosol application tests were conducted in controlled laboratory environments, meaning it would probably take significantly longer to get proper coverage in everyday environments where any breeze or wind could interfere with the product,” said Dr Tinker.

“The aerosols also required large amounts of spray for adequate coverage. Three of the aerosols tested could only provide two full body applications, with the remaining six covering three bodies - not enough to protect the average family, or for the multiple applications required during the day,” said Dr Tinker.

ARPANSA recommends that users avoid aerosol sunscreens where possible, opting for other SPF products with a more reliable application method, like a cream or a lotion.  Sunscreen should be the last line of defence and should be used alongside other sun protection methods:  

  • slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible
  • slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30 or higher sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards
  • slap on a hat – broad brim or legionnaire style to protect your face, head, neck and ears
  • seek shade
  • slide on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian Standards.

Find out more: Sun protection using sunscreens