5 Reasons Why Sunscreen Is Bad For Leather

is sunscreen bad for leather items

Sunscreen, like most people, is a must-have for me and my son during the hot summertime. It’s important to protect your skin from the sun, especially if you are planning on being outdoors for long periods of time. However, do you know how sunscreen affects your leather items? This blog post will cover if sunscreen is bad for leather or not.

So is sunscreen bad for leather items? Sunscreen is bad for leather items due to the following reasons;

  1. Sunscreen Can Discolor The Surface Of Your Leather Item
  2. Sunscreen Or Sunblock Can Dry Out Leather Items
  3. Sunscreen On Leather Can Interfere With How Your Skin Breathes
  4. Sunscreen Stains Can Be Hard To Remove
  5. Sunscreen Also Causes Leather To Become Sticky And Crusty

To learn the details on how sunscreen can affect your leather items, how to prevent it, and how to safely remove sunscreen stains if your leather items are already stained, continue reading this article.

1. Sunscreen Can Discolor The Surface Of Your Leather Item

Sunscreen contains ingredients that can break down the hydrocarbons in leather. These components include oils, waxes, and greases. This is not to say you should avoid using sunscreen as sunburns are a major cause of skin cancer.

But because I’m aware of the kind of damage the sunscreen can cause on the leather items I’m always wary about applying sunscreen especially on my baby’s body around my leather items like couches and leather car seats.

One of the first things my Son Ace does after I have applied sunscreen on his body is to throw himself on the leather couch, car seat, or carpet. The ensuing result is whitish and shiny stains that are easily noticeable.

While carefully timing when to apply sunscreen on my son worked, it meant painfully cleaning my son before we got into the car from the beach and taking a shower as soon as we got home.

It was one such occasion that one of my friends, a mom of three mentioned she uses an SPF-rated cream or lotion instead.

She mentioned they usually contain fewer oil-based emollients which will keep them lightweight enough for daytime use without compromising the appearance of your leather item after spending hours outside in the sun.

2. Sunscreen Or Sunblock Can Dry Out Leather Items

Sunscreen or sunblock can dry out leather items if they are not properly cared for. After using them, it is important to clean your leather item regularly and moisturize the surfaces with an appropriate leather cleaner and conditioner.

I had to learn this the hard way when a leather recliner my parents gifted me started to crack and peel. It was previously properly cared for and I did my best to keep it looking healthy. But everything changed at the end of the summer when we had spent a lot of time at the beach and park.

That recliner was where almost everyone including our dog sat after a good time at the beach. With time, the leather recliner not only discolored by began looking and feeling very dry.

It was almost too late as I learned leather drying out could lead to cracks that may be irreparable.

3. Sunscreen On Leather Can Interfere With How Your Skin Breathes

Sunscreen may also interfere with how your skin breathes. Leather is a porous material that contains tiny little pores that help to regulate temperature as the leather item comes into contact with your skin.

When you allow the sunscreen to buildup on your leather items such as sofa, car seats, recliners, and other leather upholsteries, the leather is not able to breathe like how it’s supposed to thus making it very uncomfortable for your skin as well when you use them.

This can cause the leather to trap heat quickly and become hot and sticky. This is why it’s so important to protect your valuable leather with a quality conditioner that will keep them soft, supple, and looking new for years to come.

4. Sunscreen Stains Can Be Hard To Remove

Another reason why sunscreen is bad for leather and why you’re to do everything possible to make sure your leather items are rid of it is that it can be a real pain in the neck to deal with it.

This is because sunscreen often contains chemicals such as oils that are designed to make them waterproof. This means that when sunscreen gets onto your leather items, its compounds stay put and will not easily wash off – especially if the sunscreen has built upon the leather surface after some time.

Although sunscreen will eventually get washed out it will require the use of some good quality leather cleaning products like Lexol Leather Conditioner and protector and can take some time to thoroughly get your leather item clean again.

5. Sunscreen Also Causes Leather To Become Sticky And Crusty

Sunscreen also contains chemicals that can cause the leather to become sticky and crusty. Using a good quality conditioner is very important so that this does not happen.

There are two main types of sunscreens: chemical and mineral sunscreens, with each type containing different ingredients which have varying effects on your leather items.

I simply hate it when my leather items feel sticky and tacky. It is simply uncomfortable and can ruin the luxurious feel natural leather is supposed to have.

This is not to say the only sunscreen could cause your leather items to become sticky. It is worth mentioning that dirt, sun, heat, can also be a factor in making your leather sticky.

What can sometimes help in choosing the right sunscreen for your needs will ensure you don’t risk damaging your prized leather possessions from these harmful substances.

How To Remove Sunscreen Stains From Leather Items

The Mild Soap And Warm Water Solution Method

Blotting the stained area with mild soap solution is one of the easiest but effective ways of removing sunscreen stains from leather.

This method will not only work on fresh sunscreen stains on leather items but also on those that have built up over time.

Below is a step-by-step guide on how I use this method to effectively and safely deal with a sunscreen stain on your leather items.

What You Need:

  • Clean and dry cloth or towel
  • Mild dish soap (no bleach) or saddle soap
  • Warm water
  • Toothbrush
  • Microfiber Cloth
  • Leather Conditioner


Step 1

  • First, you should wet the area of the sunscreen stain on the leather surface with cold water to loosen up the stain. You can use a damp microfiber cloth
  • You can also use warm-to-slightly-hot mild soap solution on the stain for sunscreen stains that has to build up over time.
  • Make sure not to get the leather item soaking wet while doing this.

Step 2

  • After about 3-5 minutes dampen your lint-free towel in the mild soap solution and then start to wipe down the surface of the affected area.
  • For sunscreen stains build-up, use your toothbrush to scrub gently but thoroughly until all traces of sunscreen are removed.
  • Be sure not to rub too hard as this will cause your sunscreen stains to become worse.

Step 3

  • Make sure to be as thorough as possible. You can rinse the towel and go over the leather-stained area until the stain goes away.
  • It may be necessary for you to repeat the process a few times until all of the stains have been removed.

Step 4

  • After the stain has gone away, you would want to take the opportunity and clean the entire surface of the leather.
  • This is important because cleaning out only the part of the leather that has been stained could result in those parts looking faded or watermarked.

Step 5

  • Once you’re satisfied with the outcome, dampen your microfiber with clean warm water and wipe off the entire surface of the leather.
  • This will help remove any soapy residue from the surface of the leather. Again do not get the leather soaking wet.
  • Keep a clean dry rag handy to take care of any excess water spills on the surface of the leather.

Step 6

  • Pat down the surface of the leather to remove any excess moisture from the leather surface with a soft clean dry microfiber cloth.
  • It is important that you make sure there are no excess wet areas left behind when done because these could lead to mold/mildew growth which would ruin the leather item and make the problem you intend to solve worse.

Step 7

  • Leave the leather item to air-dry. Emphasis on “air-dry”.
  • You do not want to expose the leather item to direct sunlight or heat source as this can dry out the leather and cause it to crack and peel.
  • If it’s a leather sofa you just cleaned, you can simply ensure direct sunlight is not coming through a window onto it.
  • If you were cleaning sunscreen stains from smaller leather items like bags, shoes, etc, simply put it in a dry cool place.
  • And in the case of leather car seats, open the car doors or roll down the windows for the leather car seats to air-dry.
  • While at it make sure dust or debris does not settle on your leather items as it dries.

Step 8

  • Use a good leather conditioner like Leather Honey Leather Conditioner to condition the leather item and leave it to dry.

The Cornstarch Method

The cornstarch method is an easy way to remove sunscreen from your leather items to prevent permanent damage. It is particularly a useful method because it is an all-natural, non-toxic, and cheap method.

Follow my simple step-by-step guide on how to use cornstarch to effectively remove sunscreen stains on your leather items.

What You Need:

  • Microfiber Cloths
  • Cornstarch
  • Leather conditioner


Step 1

  • Start by using a soft microfiber cloth to moisten the stained area of the leather item. Gently blotting the stain will weaken or neutralize the stain and make it easy to clean.
  • Make sure you do not rub the damp cloth on the stain. Simply blot or moisten the stained area.
  • You do not want to rub as this can cause the sunscreen stain to seep even deeper into the grains of the leather making the problem worse.

Step 2

  • After about 5 minutes, take a pinch of sunscreen and sprinkle lightly to cover the sunscreen stain on the leather item.
  • Cover the entire stain thoroughly with the cornstarch. Cornstarch has absorbing qualities that will allow it to absorb all of the sunscreen residues on the surface of your leather item.

Step 3 

Leave the cornstarch to sit on the surface of the stained area of the leather item for about 6 hours.

If you have the patience to wait, you could leave it for 12 hours to allow enough time for the cornstarch to absorb the sunscreen before it seeps deep into the pores of your leather item.

Step 4

  • After about 6 hours, remove a small portion of the cornstarch from the leather surface and see if the stain has been removed.
  • One common way to know the application is working is that the cornstarch will turn from white to a light yellow color.
  • While this is a great way to know if the cornstarch has soaked up the sunscreen stain, you can as well remove some of the cornstarch and see for yourself how the stain has improved.  

Step 5 

  • Once you’re satisfied with the result, you can use a vacuum cleaner to remove the cornstarch residue.
  • This is a great way of removing the residue as it helps reduce the resulting mess.
  • You can also dampen a clean lint-free towel with warm water and gently blot the yellow cornstarch residue from the leather surface.
  • You want to be as thorough as possible so that you do not leave behind any residue.

Step 6

  • Condition your leather item at this point and leave it to air-dry.

Tips On How To Prevent Sunscreen Stains From Your Leather Items

  • Clean the leather item as soon as possible
  • If you’re not able to clean it right away try blotting with paper towels or leaving a damp washcloth over the stain for about 15 minutes.
  • This will help draw out some of the oils in the stain before continuing to wipe off the remaining liquid when you can.
  • Apply an absorbent powder like cornstarch (or baking soda) on any stains that are still visible after you have wiped the surface of the leather item.
  • The powders will soak up what little moisture is left and should completely remove them from your leather goods without further staining or damaging them. Let this sit overnight if needed, then vacuum everything up in the morning.
  • Apply leather conditioner after cleaning the leather surface.
  • Rotate your leather goods so that they are not always facing in the same direction (e.g., if you have a purse with faces on both sides of its flap, make sure one side is turned away from direct sunlight).
  • If possible, store your leather products indoors or in indirect light.”

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