Useless Aerosols: Cancer Council says Best Place for Spray Sunscreen is the Bin
If you own an aerosol sunscreen, throw it away.
After a string of consumer complaints about the mists offering no protection, the Cancer Council has changed its tune and says it will strongly recommend against using aerosol sunscreens this year.
Australia’s peak independent cancer authority has sold its own range of aerosol sunscreens at supermarkets and pharmacies for years.
But the council’s leadership has grown so concerned about how difficult they are to use effectively that they have stopped manufacturing them and are in the process of phasing them off shelves.
“We don’t recommend this summer the use of aerosol sunscreens,” Professor Sanchia Aranda, the Cancer Council Australia’s chief executive, says.
“We have identified that Australians are not using them correctly. People seem to be using them a bit like a mosquito repellent.”
The problem is not with the sunscreen’s ingredients, which are effective, but with how difficult it is to use them to apply the correct amount of sunscreen.
A person in a bathing suit needs to apply about 35 millilitres of sunscreen every two hours for full coverage – that’s the size of a whole mini-tube. Each limb needs a full teaspoon of sunscreen.
“It’s a lot more than people think,” says Professor Aranda.
The council has found many people use aerosols to lightly mist sunscreen on, and end up unprotected.
About a quarter of an average bottle of aerosol sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours to ensure you are fully protected.
Adding to the difficulty of judging how much sunscreen has been applied, consumer watchdog Choice says only 40 to 60 per cent of a typical can is sunscreen. The rest is propellant.
Fairfax has reported on several complaints from people who say they liberally applied aerosol sunscreens but ended up horribly burnt anyway.
The council says after decades of education and health warnings, Australians are now quite good at making sure they put sunscreen on.
The problem is about 85 per cent of Australians aren’t applying it correctly. Even among Cancer Council staff there were a few technique issues, Professor Aranda says.
Sunscreen consists of active UV-blocking ingredients suspended in liquid. When you put sunscreen on your skin, the ingredients don’t activate until the liquid evaporates, leaving you unprotected for up to 20 minutes after first application.
If you jump in the water during those 20 minutes, the sunscreen washes straight off.
“You’re just wasting your money,” says Professor Aranda.
About 17 per cent of Australians report getting sunburnt on summer weekends.
A spokeswoman for Edgewell Personal Care Australia, Banana Boat’s parent company, said aerosol sunscreens were effective “when used according to their label instructions”.
“Spray sunscreens are a reliable and effective sun protection method that consumers continue to rapidly adopt around the world.
“Given consumers’ propensity to avoid the inconvenience of sunscreen lotion application, we view continuous sprays as a convenient format that will encourage regular use of sunscreens and help to defend against sun burns,” she said.
“Using clear spray sunscreen, an average adult still needs to apply approximately 35ml of sunscreen for each application.
That’s the equivalent of four applications, per bottle, for an adult.”