PSA: Sunscreen Can Weaken and Cause Cracks in Your Camera Body


Here’s an interesting cautionary tip and something that we’d honestly never given a second thought to: it turns out that certain chemicals in sunscreen can damage cameras with polycarbonate resin bodies, so you’d better wash your hands the next time you put on sunscreen at the beach and decide to go out shooting afterwards.

The tip comes to us from the folks at The Phoblographer, who were sent a cautionary message from a reader. And that message is backed up by this 2011 research done on polycarbonate surfaces inside cars, which found that “stress cracking” can happen to “pushbuttons, knobs and plastic faceplates” that have been exposed to the chemicals in sunscreen… especially when coupled with high temperatures.


Now, it’s a safe bet nobody who takes reasonable care of their gear is leaving their sunscreen-coated SLR on the passenger seat of their car on a sunny day, but it’s always better to know the risks and err on the side of caution.

That being said, we’re curious if anybody has anecdotal evidence for this actually causing problems? Any beach bum photographers/readers who’ve experienced issues drop us a line in the comments!

PSA: Sunblock is Bad For Your Camera [The Phoblographer]

Image credits: Line of Defense by Robert S. Donovan

  • TinusVerdino

    Wouldn’t know. My camera body is made of magnesium alloy.

  • Alan Klughammer

    One of my pet peeves is people who hold their camera wrong. Why is a photographers website showing a stock image with a woman holding the camera incorrectly…

  • markz

    doubly (or more) so for sunscreen with insect repellent.

    A couple of the major brands of long life (3+ hours) waterproof, high SPF insect repellent gels that I’ve used (think of one named after an amphibious creature and another who’s name is almost an Australian maxim you “don’t forget” ) have caused discolouration and a pitting/”melting” like effect that significantly reduces the strength of some plastics, clear plastic like led screens can go a frosty opaque.

    Of particular danger are the plastic rubber parts like camera eye cups that just turn to sticky goo with very minimal contact and exposure time – no need to leave in contact in a car for hours.

    Given I was either competing in or shooting triathlons at the time with 5+ hours in the sunlight being the usual I accepted the losses as part of the job
    Plastic sunglasses and reading glasses frames and nose bridges (and even lenses) , old (well not old back then) film point and shoot cameras, eyecups and other plastic parts on my old film Nikon F3 SLR, and the grip rubber on some lenses focus rings and even a couple of old Nokia phones all suffered serious localised damage and breakage from where sunscreen covered hands and/or face had come in to contact them.

    These days if I’m heading out to shoot in weather that needs it I usually go for a hat and a light long sleeve shirt rather than sunscreen

  • markz

    no plastic/rubber buttons or seals? no plastic LCD screen? ho plastic grip over the mag body?

    man that sounds like one tonka tough camera don’t let the sweaty sunscreen mix run down your hands and seep down between that metal shutter button and the metal case in to the not metal circuit boards

  • TinusVerdino

    is sealed

  • worker88

    There isn’t a right/wrong way. There are different ways.

  • arachnophilia

    …by rubber and plastic.

  • TinusVerdino

    but is it a polycarbonate?

  • markz

    or maybe it’s inside a seal …
    I’m sure there’s a Groucho Marx joke in there …. it’s probably a sealy one though

    just keep away from Canadians

  • markz

    while the article goes through a number of polycarbonates used by car designers/manufacturers for many internals parts a great number of plastics exhibit similar chemical sensitivity – synthetic rubber, vinyls & PVA’s are to a greater or lesser degree affected by the chemicals in sunscreen.

  • Jim A.

    Mosquito repellant will hurt your plastic devices too… I learned the hard way. I didn’t know this could happen from sunscreen tho. I take my camera on the boat from time to time, heat and sunscreen are just two more things to worry about now. Yaay! Not.

  • Mike

    “Wrong” here means a way that actually causes degradation of the image.

  • Robert Potter

    And external car door plastic trims on a Honda 2014 CRV as proven by my sister-in-laws kids who wiped off their excess sun block on them without anyone seeing. She wasn’t too pleased with the results a few days later.

  • worker88

    How? You can’t hold your camera and take pictures with your left hand rotated 180 degrees? Our you just don’t like he way it looks?

    That camera has a grip for a reason. Is it on the lens or the body?

  • 3ric15
  • 3ric15

    Gotta love people who go to the nearest tech store and buy the latest and greatest body and L-glass, and then hold it incorrectly (as shown in the picture above). Unless they have physical problems twisting their wrist that way, they should really learn to hold it correctly.

  • Dimiter Vatchov

    Shortly after I got it, I used to bring my old Canon PowerShot G5 to the beach and take pictures with it during the day. Despite my best efforts to keep it clean, I couldn’t keep out the occasional grain of sand, and I may have touched it with slightly greasy (from sunscreen) or slightly salty (from the sea) fingers. All I know is that these factors, combined with the heat, are the most likely culprit behind the discoloration and degradation of the plastic materials. It was by no means extreme, but for just a small period (about 10 days), it was quite pronounced.

    I have to say that this has led me to almost abandon bringing a camera to the beach in the cases when I don’t plan to spend my whole time there shooting.

  • worker88

    I like that all of the stock images and the logo have cameras displayed the way you all keep saying is wrong.

  • worker88

    You guys can keep your manuals nearby. If they’re wrong I don’t want to be right…

  • g.s. photo

    What about the pop up flash, shooting into the sun. Gotta make that ocean pop.

  • 3ric15

    That’s why they say “beginner” because they are holding them incorrectly >:D

  • Theo Lubbe

    Back-lit subject with front-fill flash, possibly with slaves on light stands with diffusers. *cough*

  • Dario Toledo

    Mine too. Well to put out any doubts I’m gonna let my K-5 take another shower.

  • Chang 场河

    Have not seen this with sunscreen, but I have with insect repellent. DEET will dissolve right through many plastics.

  • Domen Ulbl

    I week ago I was shoting with a 550D and Sigma 17-50 at a beach in Malta After a while I noticed that certain white labels on the lens, such as the lens name on the hoodwere comming off, I wasn’t sure if it’ because of the sunscreen or sand but I guess this article gave me the answer. I honestly never thought this to be an issue.

  • Steve Fox

    I years past, I rotted the “leathers” on my Contax 137 MD in a month while using my camera on holiday I put that down to the sunscreen on my fingers I replaced the leathers and they have lasted indefinitely !

  • Smarten_Up

    I would sooner protect my skin, than my camera!

    And makes you wonder what kinds of chems are in many of the OTC sunscreens?

    Most are poisonous anyway, would be interesting to learn they are bad for cameras too…

  • Xieni

    Thanks for the PSA.