Spray-On Sunscreens: Convenience But At What Price? Print E-mail
Written by Donald Riker, PhD   
Sunday, 06 June 2010 00:00
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Spray-On Sunscreens: Convenience But At What Price?
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Coppertone 30 SpraySeveral years ago manufacturers discovered that consumers wanted a convenient way to apply sunscreens, particularly to hard to reach places, and without the mess.  So the spray can, known to developers as a "bag-on-valve" system, was introduced in 2005 by companies like Coppertone Sport.

 

Now nearly ubiquitous these products offer convenience but at what price?

Beach ChairsSitting on a Mexican beach recently I watched a woman up-wind of me using a spray can to apply sunscreen.  In the heat I could see the clouds of spray blooming from her skin like so many cartoon captions, and soon smelled the aroma some 12 meters downwind.  It got me thinking:  at what price convenience?

First, let's investigate the price of convenience.   Using Walmart pricing [6/6/10] the unit cost of Coppertone Sport Lotion 30, for example,  is $0.99/oz while the comparable spray version is $1.31/oz, 32% more expensive at the shelf.  The Equate store brand version of the lotion costs $0.63/oz while the spray version is $0.83/oz, also 32% more.  Using Equate 30 Sport Lotion instead of Coppertone Sport Spray would save $0.68/oz, essentially a 2-for-1 deal.

However, what is critical is the actual delivery of sunscreens to the skin whether sprayed or applied as a lotion.  Scientific testing reveals that only about 50% of the aerosol adheres to the skin.  Recalculation of the true unit cost of the Coppertone Sport Spray yields $2.62/applied oz while the Equate version goes to $1.66/applied oz.  This makes the cost of sunscreens delivered to the skin 165% more expensive as an aerosol than as a lotion.  Amazingly you would have to buy $21 worth of Coppertone Sport Spray to apply what an 8oz tube of Equate Sport Lotion delivers directly to the skin, an up-charge of $16 for convenience.  Possibly making matters worse is the skin penetration of aerosol-deposited sunscreens is low.  Semi-occluded lotions may better deliver the actives into the skin.  The good news is that SPF testing should level the playing field by evaluating actual effectiveness if the tests are validated.

Beyond the relative expense of spray delivery are further price/value issues.  Spray delivery relies on a highly volatile vehicle, such as alcohol, that may sting or dry the skin and is flammable.  Lastly, the coverage area of a clear spray is difficult to judge while a lotion allows visualization of application and coverage.  On the other contrary there is added value in applying lotions that also include moisturizers, anti-oxidants, humectants, emollients, vitamins, and other skin protectants.  These other benefits can't be underestimated. 



 
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