Is Sunscreen Flammable?
News that a Massachusetts man suffered severe burns while using a backyard grill — just after applying sunscreen spray — has raised new fears about sunscreen products. But dermatologists and burn experts called it a freak occurrence caused not by the sunscreen itself, but by the fact that the man was using an aerosol spray near an open flame.
Sunscreen itself is not usually flammable. But like hairsprays, spray deodorants, insecticides, paints and other products that can be sprayed out of a can or bottle, sunscreen can become flammable when used in aerosol form, said Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University.
The man, Brett Sigworth, suffered severe burns on his chest, ear and back. He reportedly had just sprayed himself with layers of aerosolized Banana Boat sunscreen before walking over to his grill.
Dr. Rigel said that in over three decades of practicing, he had never seen or heard of a similar occurrence. But he called it plausible.
“Most of the sunscreen sprays have some kind of alcohol in them,” he said, “and the alcohol vapors are probably what caused the fire.”
Other chemicals that are used to make aerosols — things like volatile hydrocarbons, propane and dimethyl ether — are also flammable.
Because alcohol typically evaporates very quickly — within a minute or two — there is usually little risk of a fire hazard. But Dr. Rigel said it was likely Mr. Sigworth sprayed himself and then immediately got close to
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