A Massachusetts man whose skin was set on fire just moments after applying sunscreen has highlighted a new safety concern associated with the product. Though a rare occurrence, the man's injuries do make evident the fact that applying sunscreen from an aerosol spray increases your risk of suffering burns if immediately exposed to open flames.
The man in question, Brett Sigworth, suffered second degree burns on his chest, ear and back when his skin caught fire as he operated a backyard grill in May 2012. The burns occurred in the exact locations where he had applied sunscreen just moments before. The skin was still wet from the spray.
Commenting on the incident in The New York Times, Dr. Darrell Rigel, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University, explained that most sunscreen sprays have some form of alcohol in them and alcohol is a flammable product. Additionally, chemicals used in all aerosols, which include volatile hydrocarbons, propane and dimethyl ether, are flammable as well. Most people are unaware of the flammability risk associated with sprays because the vapors evaporate quickly, making incidents like this one rare. Yet, as Mr. Sigworth's situation illustrates, sunscreen's flammability can pose a serious safety hazard if the product is used incorrectly.
In order to avoid the risk of flammability, experts advise waiting two minutes after applying spray sunscreen before getting anywhere in the vicinity of any type of grill or open flame. Dr Rigel cautions that even a cigarette or match could ignite the sunscreen if lit too soon after application.
For his part, Mr. Sigworth is hoping to spread the message of caution as well. He says that he's shared his story and photos of his injuries to prevent anyone else from suffering sunscreen-related burns. "It was so scary and I just wouldn't want to see it happen to anybody else," he says.