FDA reminds consumers spray-on sunscreens can catch fire

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 08: Beach-goers apply sunscreen to each other at Bondi Beach on January 8, 2013 in Sydney, Australia. Temperatures are expected to reach as high as 43 degrees around Sydney today.
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We're often told to wear sunscreen to protect from burning under the sun. But don't forget to protect yourself from actual burns when you apply spray-on sunscreen.

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers this month that applying sunscreen spray before coming close to an open flame can cause the person to catch fire. There have been at least five incidents where people wearing spray-on sunscreen near flames ended up igniting to the point where they needed medical attention.

Those specific Banana Boat products have since been recalled, the FDA said in the July Consumer Update.

In June 2012, a Stow, Mass. man Brett Sigworth was going to grill in his backyard so he decided to put on some Banana Boat Sport Performance spray-on sunscreen. He headed over to his barbecue and as he started to move around the charcoal briquettes, the next thing he knew his arm was on fire.

"I went into complete panic mode and screamed," Brett Sigworth said to CBS Boston. "I've never experienced pain like that in my life."

Sigworth ended up with second degree burns on his chest, ear and back in the spots where he had applied sunscreen. Doctors told him if he was on fire for a few more seconds, he would have experienced more severe injuries.

While the specific products behind the five cases have been recalled -- Energizer said last October the Banana Boat sprays had spray valves that delivered more sunscreen, causing it to take longer to dry on the skin -- other products may include flammable components like alcohol. In Sigworth's case, the product did say it was flammable and should never be applied near an open flame. However, it never said there was danger if you were just simply wearing the product near a fire, as Sigworth claimed he was doing.

The FDA reminded people to never use flammable products near a flame, which can include grills, cigarettes, candles and sparklers.

"Based on this information, we recommend that after you have applied a sunscreen spray labeled as flammable, you consider avoiding being near an open flame, sparks or an ignition source," Dr Narayan Nair, a lead medical officer at FDA, said in a statement.

Though no children have been set on fire by flammable sunscreen, the FDA warns that adults should especially be careful using the product around children. Burns on kids have the potential to be far more severe than adults.

But the FDA's latest guidance does not mean that consumers should avoid using sunscreen altogether. Lydia Velazquez, an FDA expert on sunscreen and other skin-related products, said people should definitely still apply sunscreen if they are spending time outdoors. She suggested using a product with a Broad Spectrum SPF of 15 or higher, limiting time in the sun -- especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. -- and wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats and sunglasses to stay protected.

"It's always important to read the label of a product before you use it and to follow the directions," Velazquez advised.