Spray or Lotion Sunscreen: Which Is Better?

Without any doubt, sunscreen is your best bet against skin aging and skin cancer. But which one should you choose - spray-on or lotion sunscreen?

February 16, 2022 5 minutes read
Different sunscreen bottles

In This Post

Sunscreen is the most crucial step in your daily skincare routine, protecting you from the powerful and harmful UV rays. And while one would think shopping for sunscreen is pretty straightforward, at times it can be somewhat puzzling – there are all sorts of sunscreens on the market, including sprays, lotions, creams, gels, and sticks, filling the shelves in the stores. So which one should you go for?

In this article, we'll dive deeper into the pros and cons of lotion vs. spray sunscreens and try to make future sunscreen shopping a bit easier for you.

Spray-On vs. Lotion Sunscreens: Pros and Cons

The most common dilemma people have is – should I go for a quick and convenient option and get a spray sunscreen; or, should I go for a tried-and-true lotion sunscreen? And while you may think the choice comes down to practicality, it's much more than that – it's about the level of protection they provide for your skin.

So here's a quick sum-up of all the advantages and disadvantages of both types of sunscreens:

Spray Sunscreens

Pros: Spray sunscreens are becoming more and more popular because of their application method – it's convenient, quick, and easy. All you need to do is spray the area of your skin that's exposed to the sun, and you're good to go. No mess, rubbing, and greasy hands – some of the most common reasons parents prefer spray-ons. There's no hassle, and you can quickly put sunscreen on your kids before they bolt to play.

Another reason you might prefer spray sunscreens to lotions is that it's much easier to cover those hard-to-reach areas of your body with spay-ons, such as your back and shoulders.

Cons: However, while they might be super-convenient, dermatologists mainly still advise against using spray sunscreens. This is because people usually don't apply enough of it, leaving the skin without proper protection. It can be pretty dangerous as you'd assume it's safe to spray a bit of sunscreen and spend hours in the sun.

In addition, the FDA finds that using spray sunscreens on kids may be dangerous because they are more likely to be inhaled or get in contact with the eyes and mouth, causing asthma and allergies.

spray sunscreen and lotion sunscreen

Lotion Sunscreens

Pros: Unlike spray sunscreens, those in the form of creams, lotions, or gels allow you to control the amount you use more easily. The FDA advises that an average-sized person needs about one ounce of sunscreen to cover their whole body – this is approximately one shot glass. This means that, on average, one bottle of lotion sunscreen should be enough for eight to ten applications.

And while you may still miss the mark and use less than recommended, it's generally much easier to eyeball the proper amount of lotion sunscreen than spray sunscreen. As a result, lotion sunscreens will offer better sun protection.

Cons: Many people avoid cream or lotion sunscreens as they take too long to apply. In addition, if you're not used to them, they might feel a bit heavy on the skin and sticky and may cause you to sweat more.

The Verdict

And now, everything boils down to the original question: Which one is better? Well, our vote goes to lotion sunscreens because there's simply less room for mistake with these, and we want the best protection possible. After all, it's our health on the line.

But, ideally, you'd want the best of both worlds – a mess-free application and proper protection. With lotion sunscreens, it's easy to achieve both – just apply a hefty amount and clean your hands with a wet wipe afterward. And yes, get used to that slightly sticky feeling! When it comes to spray sunscreens, the good news is you don't have to give up on them just yet, but you need to be more mindful when applying them and follow specific guidelines.

How to Apply Spray Sunscreen Properly

woman applying spray sunscreen on her legs

So, at the end of the day, the best sunscreen for you is the one you'll use every day. So, whether it's in the form of lotion, stick, cream, or spray, it doesn't matter as long as you apply them correctly and in an adequate amount.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), you should follow these steps to make sure you use spray sunscreens safely and to get the best protection possible:

Tip #1: Spray longer than 3 seconds: With spray-ons, it's all about how long versus how much. If you spray only for short, naturally, you won't get the proper coverage and protection. According to research, to get the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) that's indicated on the bottle of your product, you need about 2 mg of sunscreen per square centimeter of the skin.

So, while it's hard to measure the amount with sprays, the good indicator would be to spray until your skin looks wet or until there's an even gloss on your skin. Another good indicator is that an eight-ounce spray bottle is enough for eight applications.

Tip #2: Hold the sprayer close to your skin: To make sure that the product ends up on your skin and not in the air, hold the nozzle of the bottle close to your skin. That way, you're also decreasing the chances of inhaling it.

Tip #3: Rub the product into your skin: After you've sprayed a portion of your skin, massage it in thoroughly before moving on to the next area. This way, you're making sure you're getting even coverage and not missing any spots.

Tip #4: Don't inhale the product: To avoid inhaling your spray-on sunscreen, it would be best to avoid spraying it directly on your face. Instead, you could spray it on your hands first and then apply it to your face. Or, you could hold your breath and keep your mouth and eyes closed while you're spraying your face, but remember to keep the nozzle close to your skin.

Tip #5: Spray-ons don't mesh well with windy days: Wind will carry the product away from your skin and into the air, making it more difficult for you to apply a proper amount and easier to inhale it on accident.

Tip #6: Avoid applying spray sunscreen near open flame: Aerosol-form sunscreens can be flammable. So, avoid using it while smoking or if you're close to any source of fire, such as candles or grill. Also, before approaching any open flames, make sure that your spray-on sunscreen is well rubbed into your skin and thoroughly dry.


As you can see, both lotion and spray sunscreens can offer good sun protection when used properly and in an adequate amount. So it's best to find the one that you feel comfortable using consistently since daily sunscreen is the primary protection against photoaging, sunburn, and skin cancer.

However, no matter which type of product you go for, it's important to reapply it every two hours or 45 minutes if you're swimming or sweating. In addition, don't neglect other sun protection measures, such as seeking shade whenever possible, drinking enough water, wearing long sleeves and pants, as well as sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat. After all, no sunscreen can entirely block the harmful UVB and UVA rays.


Why is lotion sunscreen better than spray?

Lotion sunscreen is better than spray sunscreen because it's easier to measure and apply the right amount of product to your skin. With spray sunscreens, you'll often get uneven coverage and, therefore, not the best sun protection.

How much spray sunscreen to use on the face?

The optimum amount would be about two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter. To ensure you apply enough sunscreen to your face, hold the nozzle close to your skin and spray for about 2 to 3 seconds.

Are spray sunscreens safe?

Generally, spray sunscreens are considered safe, but only when used carefully. So, try not to breathe it in or get it into your eyes. Also, be mindful not to use it close to an open flame.

What's the difference between spray sunscreen and lotion?

Spray sunscreens may be more convenient to use on the go and less messy. However, using lotion sunscreen is much safer as there's less room for mistakes with these, and you can easily measure the right amount of sunscreen you need to apply.

...Liked what you read?