Sunscreen is (or should be!) a crucial part of everyone’s skincare routine, and just like any skin care product, everyone prefers a certain kind. But with all the different forms of sunscreen on the market — from foundations and creams to aerosols and setting sprays — have you ever wondered what the difference is in the protection that spray-on and cream sunscreens offer? What about which type is best for your complexion? You’re certainly not alone.
The most widely available, well-known form of sunscreen is the trusty cream formula. This type of SPF applies just like a body lotion, can be used by anyone, young or old, and provides a comprehensive coating — when applied properly! Cream sunscreens can be formulated with chemical or mineral UV filtering ingredients to protect against UV rays, and can provide everything from lightweight to heavy-duty, long-lasting coverage. This type of sunscreen may be a better choice for those with dry skin as it’s more hydrating. In fact, many facial sunscreens these days are wrapped into a daily moisturizer. Traditional liquid sunscreens may also be better for those with sensitive skin, as the selection of cream formulas targeted to specific skin types is much more extensive.
Due to the way creams are rubbed into the skin, it’s easy to see exactly where the product was applied. While cream sunscreens have come a long way from their original thick, white formulas, many people still complain that these formulas leave their skin feeling heavy and greasy.
The only downside to this type of sunscreen is that it can be easily broken down by water or sweat. As anyone who’s ever had sunscreen run into their eyes knows, this means they can potentially be irritating to your eyes, nose and mouth when you’re perspiring or swimming.
Spray sunscreens are quick and easy to apply and require minimal effort once they’ve been sprayed onto the skin. There are hundreds of spray sunscreen options on the market in a variety of scents and strengths; some companies have even created makeup setting sprays packed with SPF to make facial sunscreen application light and easy. Lightweight sprays may be more ideal for those whose skin is more likely to break out due to thick liquid formulas.
The major downside to spray sunscreens is not that they’re less robust or effective, it’s that often, they’re not applied properly. Because sprays are thinner, they require a thicker layer than we might think, and should actually be sprayed on each area of the body for several seconds, not just a momentary spritz. The problem with sprays is that it’s hard to tell exactly how much has been applied, whereas creams provide a clearer visual of how much has been put on the skin. The other caveat with aerosol options is that, unless they’re specifically labeled as such, they aren’t necessary safe for the face.
The bottom line is that broad-spectrum combinations that thoroughly protect our skin are available in creams and sprays, and both include the same ingredients for UV protection. The key is properly applying each formula — to safely protect your body, use an ounce of liquid sunscreen (a full shot glass or palm full) or spray each body part for at least 3-5 seconds.
It comes down to personal preference — the better sunscreen is the one you’ll actually use. There are a slew of factors that may encourage you to choose one type of sunscreen over another — concern for the environment may encourage some to avoid aerosols, whereas parents may opt for a spray formula because applying cream to small, wriggling kiddos isn’t so easy.
Generally speaking, try to avoid sunscreens that include known, harmful chemicals (such as parabens or phthalates), but as long as you’re picking a broad spectrum SPF and ensuring that you’re properly applying, and reapplying, it, whichever you choose should protect you from harmful UV rays.