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Sunscreen That Won't Stain Clothes

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

Sunscreens can either stain your clothes or leave a residue behind depending on the type chosen. In general, it can be easier to lift a residue than remove a stain. Read more...



sunscreen stain

Photo: Wix

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Are there specific ingredients in sunscreen that tend to stain clothes?

There is a study evaluating the staining of clothes by sunscreens that found that products containing avobenzone, oxybenzone, and/or octocrylene are the most likely to stain clothing. Zinc and titanium were found to be the least likely to do so. Although Zinc and Titanium may be most likely to leave a white residue on clothing, this is very different from a stain.

What is the difference between a residue and a stain?

Residue and stains are actually different concepts.

Stains we are familiar with- sliding on the grass, spilling food on your clothes, etc. Think of staining as something coming into contact with your clothes or sheets that deposits itself into the fibers and can leave your fabrics discolored.

Residue can build up on textiles over time from particulate or oily matter that gets into the fabric. This serves as a source for bacteria, germs, odor, and dirt to attach themselves. Residues can accumulate from detergent left behind from prior loads, other products deposited on fabrics over time, oils from our skin and the environment, and even the water we wash our clothes in itself such as hard water.

Stains leave the fabrics discolored and are typically concentrated in a certain area. Residue can occur across an entire garment and slightly discolor the fabric, but it also can change how it feels over time and serve as a source for the odor to linger in our clothes.


sunscreen stain


Which are easier to remove - residues from mineral sunscreens or stains from chemical sunscreens?

Residues however can be easier to lift out of a garment with fabric rinses such as Downy Rinse & Refresh. Stains on the other hand can impact the fibers of your garments and be much more difficult to remove.

Which sunscreen ingredients are least likely to stain your clothes?

Zinc and titanium are least likely to stain your clothes and tend to be yet another reason to favor these ingredients.

Do formulations also play a role (for example, are sprays or serums less likely to stain than typical lotions)?

In the study evaluating the staining of clothes by sunscreen additives, different formulations were tested but not separated out based on the method of application, only by ingredients. That being said, products that leave more of a textural residue on the skin will likely rub off on clothing easily leaving them more likely to leave a stain or build up residues on clothing. Sunscreen lotions would fall under this category as would sunscreen sticks. Sunscreen lotions take longer to dry than a sunscreen spray for example. A sunscreen stick, similar to a stick antiperspirant would more likely have its residue transferred to clothing.

There is one caveat for sunscreen sprays. It truly depends on when you apply the spray. Do you apply the sunscreen spray before getting dressed or after? If you apply it beforehand, it will have the opportunity to dry and be less likely to transfer to clothes. If you apply it after, the process of application will likely lead to scatter from the aerosol of the spray leaving your clothes more vulnerable to picking up the product.

Do you have any sunscreen recommendations that won't stain clothes?

I always recommend mineral-based sunscreen products for their health benefit and reduced environmental impact. I think it's reasonable to keep these on the list for the reduced tendency towards staining clothing. The challenge with sprays versus lotion would be when it is applied. If applying sunscreen before getting dressed, then consider these mineral sunscreen spray options...

Any other tips for applying sunscreen that might be useful to reduce the tendency to stain or leave a residue on clothing?

Apply SPF products before dressing when possible. If you apply it after you are dressed, the most likely area to have product transference to clothing is along the areas where clothing is adjacent to the skin. Applying product before dressing reduces this tendency. Also, remember to consider the role of sun-protective clothing overall!

sunscreen stain


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