Sun Tanning Questions

Why Does Sunscreen Turn My Clothes Orange? (With Solutions)

Written by: Anastasija

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Sunscreen, as important as it is to your daily routine, can be a pain sometimes, and it’s notorious for causing problems such as staining and greasiness. After applying your sunscreen, your clothes may start to turn orange, so here’s what’s going on, and how you can remove the stain.

Why does sunscreen turn my clothes orange?

So, it’s a beautiful day outside, so you’ve decided to get ready in some of your favourite clothes, namely a white t-shirt, and you’re just applying your sunscreen to protect your skin before venturing out into the light. However, once you get back home, you notice that your once bright, white t-shirt is now stained with orange marks, and there’s nothing to blame except for the sunscreen. Sound familiar?

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Sunscreen, as mentioned, is widely known for its ability to stain clothes, particularly white ones, and it can leave you in a situation where you’re not sure what to do, as your favourite white tee seems to be ruined! As well as panicking for ways to get rid of the stain, which you can discover later, you might be wondering how it even came around, as sunscreen stains always seem to sneak their way onto your garments without any notice.

The fact is that these stains are, as you would have probably guessed, a result of the ingredients contained in sunscreens, and this is why it’s difficult to find a sunscreen that doesn’t leave some sort of mark or stain.

IngredientDescription
AvobenzoneA chemical UV filter that can react with iron ions in water, leading to staining.
OxybenzoneAnother chemical UV filter that can cause yellow staining on light-colored fabrics.
Iron OxidesUsed in tinted sunscreens, iron oxides can transfer color and stain fabrics.
Dihydroxyacetone (DHA)Found in self-tanning sunscreens, DHA can cause brownish stains on fabrics.
Red/Yellow/Orange DyesSome sunscreens contain synthetic dyes that can transfer color to clothing.
Mica and Titanium DioxideCommon ingredients in mineral sunscreens that may leave a white cast on fabrics.
Table 1: Common Ingredients in Sunscreen that Cause Staining

All sunscreens contain a special category of ingredients, known as UV filters, and these UV filters are the ones responsible for protecting your skin from the Sun’s damaging rays in the most effective way possible. There are a variety of UV filters out there, and they’re crucial to the sunscreen’s formula, as the product can’t carry out its function without them, and your skin would suffer damage instead.

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One of the main ingredients which has been shown to leave orange marks on your clothes is one known as avobenzone, which is one of the few currently approved by the FDA and is very popular for its powerful protection properties. Although, it can be a cause for frustration and panic, as the stains it leaves can be difficult to remove.

When water comes into contact with your sunscreen, some of the minerals from that water will react with the avobenzone, if your product contains it, and the result of this reaction comes out as an orange, or brown-ish, stain which will transfer onto your clothes, being particularly visible if they’re light in colour. This water can be from sweat, a spill when you’re drinking or even when swimming and putting your clothes on afterwards. Basically, water plus avobenzone equals a stain.

Oxybenzone, another UV filter which is similar to avobenzone in many ways, has also been shown to stain clothing slightly orange or yellow, but this is generally to a lesser degree than avobenzone. Nevertheless, it’s still useful to know about this, as either one of the two ingredients may be the culprit, and your sunscreen may contain only one, or even both, so be sure to check the ingredient list for this!

SolutionDescription
Apply and absorb properlyAllow sufficient time for the sunscreen to fully absorb into the skin before dressing to minimize transfer.
Choose tint-free optionsOpt for sunscreens without tint or self-tanning properties to avoid color transfer.
Apply sunscreen carefullyBe mindful of the amount of sunscreen used and ensure thorough blending to minimize excess on clothing.
Wear protective clothingConsider wearing clothing with built-in UPF protection or use a cover-up to minimize direct contact with sunscreen.
Wash immediatelyPromptly wash stained clothes using stain removers or pre-treatment products to prevent color setting.
Test on small areaBefore applying sunscreen, perform a patch test on a small, inconspicuous area of fabric to check for potential staining.
Table 2: Tips to Prevent Sunscreen Stains on Clothes

Also read:
Does Sunscreen Make You Sweat More? (Explained)
Does Sunscreen Go Bad in Heat? (Explained)

Can sunscreen damage clothes in other ways, too?

Although avobenzone is the main culprit for the stains you can find on your summer clothes (and winter ones, too), it’s not the only way that a sunscreen can cause damage or destruction to your fashion, and there are other problems you can experience, too.

One of the other problems that can come from your sunscreen is due to another ingredient, known as zinc oxide, which is known to cause white stains on darker materials, such as your clothes and even the interior of your car or on your furniture. These white stains can be very visible and intense, and they often come around without any prior cause, other than the application of sunscreen. Unlike avobenzone and oxybenzone, zinc oxide stains can come from your skin just by contact, and no other reaction.

Titanium dioxide is another mineral ingredient and, just like zinc oxide, it also contributes to white and faded yellow-ish stains, but they’re not quite as common.

How can I remove orange sunscreen stains from my clothes?

If you’ve got a sunscreen stain on your prized wardrobe pieces, your instant reaction may be to panic, especially when it can seem like light colours are impossible to remove stains from. While the stain may look unpleasant and difficult to remove, there is hope, and there’s one method which is definitely worth trying as soon as you spot the mark.

Start by taking the section of the garment which has been stained and rinse that area under cold water. Avoid warm water as it can actually cause the stain to set in more, so it’s important to make sure the water is cool.

Whilst the fabric is still wet, or damp, lay it down on a flat surface and squeeze a little lemon juice all over the area. Lemon juice is acidic, and it’s good for removing stains, especially when your clothes are lighter in colour and you’re trying to use something powerful enough to remove a darker mark, like orange or yellow sunscreen. You don’t need to use a huge amount of sunscreen – just enough for a light covering over the area to make sure it can work effectively.

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Add a small pile of the salt, in a miniature mountain shape, onto the garment, on top of the lemon juice before leaving the piece of clothing as it is, laid out flat, overnight. In the morning, you can come back and brush any remaining salt off of the item and finish the process by washing it as you normally would. Once the clothing is dry, it should be clear of any signs of staining, and ready to wear once again!

If the stain is particularly stubborn, you may need to go back over it with a stain bar or similar heavy-duty laundering product, as this should work just as it would on other stains and remove any remaining colour.

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Final thoughts

There are a few possible explanations for the sunscreen related stains on your clothes, and it’s no secret that they can be annoying and destructive. However, there’s no need to fear as now you also know how to remove them from your treasured garments, and you also know what’s causing them in the first place! It’s difficult to avoid sunscreen stains but spotting and treating them straight away can make a difference.

About Anastasija

Welcome to my website! I'm Anastasija, and as a redhead with a sensitivity to the sun, I embarked on a quest to find the perfect sunless tanner six years ago.

After extensive research and four years of personal experience, I'm here to share my wealth of tips and tricks for achieving a beautiful, sun-kissed glow.

Whether you're interested in self-tanners, spray tans, or safe sun exposure, this website covers it all.

Join me as I provide valuable insights and guidance for various methods of getting that desired tan.

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