How Sunscreen Can Burn You

Five people burst into flames last year after spray-on sunscreen ignited on their skin. The manufacturer has recalled those sprays, but the Food and Drug Administration says sprays can still pose a fire risk because they include flammable chemicals. So spray carefully, or opt for a shirt.

That sunscreen you dutifully spray throughout the day could actually get you burned.

We're not talking sunburn. We're talking people bursting into flames because they're wearing sunscreen.

Last year the Food and Drug Administration recorded five incidents in which people were burned after their sunscreen caught on fire.

One person was hurt after lighting a cigarette. Another stood near a citronella candle.

One man in Massachusetts applied spray sunscreen and then went to tend his backyard grill. The flames leaped to his arm, then traveled to his torso. He suffered second-degree burns and was treated in a hospital burn unit.

And a woman in Norfolk, Va., applied spray sunscreen, waited several minutes for the product to dry, and then turned on a welding torch, a local TV station reported. "My whole arm went on fire," she told the station.

Many spray sunscreens include alcohol or other flammable ingredients.

In these cases, all of the people had used Banana Boat sunscreen sprays. The company recalled those products last fall.

A spokesperson for Banana Boat's parent company, Energizer Personal Care, told Shots in an email the problem appeared to be caused by a spray valve that dispensed large amounts of product.

We redesigned the delivery mechanism and rigorously tested it through our comprehensive safety and quality assurance processes. New products began shipping in November 2012.

But people should be careful with all sunscreen sprays, the FDA cautions. The agency said Wednesday that people should never apply sunscreen sprays near an open flame like a BBQ grill or candle, and not approach a flame until the product has had time to dry completely.

Fear of immolation won't get you off the hook when it comes to sun protection, through. The FDA still wants people using sunscreens or covering up to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Lotion-type sunscreens don't post a fire risk. Nor does wearing a hat and long sleeves.

To make choosing sunscreen less of a chore, last year the agency issued new regulations aimed at making the SPF ratings on sunscreens simpler and easier to understand.

Sunscreens need to be rated at SPF 15 or higher and labeled "broad spectrum" in order to claim that they protect against both sunburn and skin cancer.

And SPFs can no longer go higher than 50; the FDA determined that there's no evidence that the higher SPFs grant more protection.


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