Assalamualaikum ustaz. What is the ruling of performing ablution when one has some lotion, moisturizer or sunscreen on? Thank you.
Waalaikumussalam wrt. wbt.,
Alhamdulillah, praise and gratitude to Allah SWT for His countless blessings for us all. Praise and salutations to our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH, his family, companions, and all those who follow his footsteps until the Final day.
We begin with Allah SWT’s statement:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِذَا قُمْتُمْ إِلَى الصَّلَاةِ فَاغْسِلُوا وُجُوهَكُمْ وَأَيْدِيَكُمْ إِلَى الْمَرَافِقِ وَامْسَحُوا بِرُءُوسِكُمْ وَأَرْجُلَكُمْ إِلَى الْكَعْبَيْنِ
“O you who have believed, when you rise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles.” 
Al-Maraghi stated that the meaning of the above hadith is only when a person wanted to perform the ablution to pray – whilst he is in the state of minor hadas. The reason is all Muslims stated that purification (ablution and obligatory bath) isn’t obligated for those who wanted to pray except for those who are in hadas. 
Valid Condition of Ablution
Among the valid conditions of ablution is to not have anything from hindering the water from reaching the skin for the ablution body parts when washing them.  It is also cited in al-Fiqh al-Manhaji  that it is obligatory to wipe the water on all the hair and skin. If there is some dirt under the nails or a person is wearing a ring that prevents the water from reaching the skin, then his ablution is invalid.
This is based on a hadith from Abdullah bin ‘Amr R.Anhuma, he said:
رَجَعْنَا مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مِنْ مَكَّةَ إِلَى الْمَدِينَةِ حَتَّى إِذَا كُنَّا بِمَاءٍ بِالطَّرِيقِ تَعَجَّلَ قَوْمٌ عِنْدَ الْعَصْرِ فَتَوَضَّئُوا وَهُمْ عِجَالٌ فَانْتَهَيْنَا إِلَيْهِمْ وَأَعْقَابُهُمْ تَلُوحُ لَمْ يَمَسَّهَا الْمَاءُ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم: وَيْلٌ لِلأَعْقَابِ مِنَ النَّارِ أَسْبِغُوا الْوُضُوءَ
“We returned from Mecca to Medina with God’s messenger, and when we came to some water on the way some of the people hurriedly performed ablution at the time of the afternoon prayer; but they were too hasty, and when we reached them, their heels were dry, no water having touched them. God’s messenger, therefore, said, “Woe to the heels because of hell! Complete the ablution.” 
Likewise in another hadith, from a narration of Umar bin al-Khattab RA:
أَنَّ رَجُلاً تَوَضَّأَ فَتَرَكَ مَوْضِعَ ظُفُرٍ عَلَى قَدَمِهِ فَأَبْصَرَهُ النَّبِىُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ فَقَالَ: ارْجِعْ فَأَحْسِنْ وُضُوءَكَ فَرَجَعَ ثُمَّ صَلَّى
“A man was doing wudoo’ for prayer, and he missed an area the size of a fingernail on the top of his foot. The Prophet ﷺ saw him and said: `Go back and do your wudoo’ properly.” So, he went back and did wudoo’ then he prayed.” 
Thus, it is clear a person’s ablution is considered invalid if there is something on the obligatory body parts to be washed but isn’t washed for there is something preventing water, even if it is a little.
Imam al-Nawawi in his book stated that when there is something on some body parts – that are obligated to be washed for ablution – such as wax, flour, henna or others that prevents water from reaching the skin, then his purification is invalid – which means ablution or obligatory bath – regardless of whether it is in a small or huge amount. If the residue on the hands and others such as the color of henna without its physical matter or a very thin layer of fat that doesn’t prevent water from reaching the skin and water can flow on top of it but it doesn’t stick – which means water doesn’t stick on the oil on his hand. Then, his purification is valid. 
Moreover, among the other valid conditions of ablution is that nothing should be on the ablution body parts that can change the attribute of water that comes in contact with it such as perfume and ink. This doesn’t include one’s own sweat such as his own smell for both are something that is difficult to be controlled. 
According to the above discussion and arguments, in our opinion, if there is something on the ablution body parts that could prevent ablution water from reaching the skin or changes the ablution water, then it is obligated to be removed completely before beginning to perform ablution. The failure to do so may result in the ablution being invalid. Although, it is forgiven if the residual moisturizer or sunscreen is too thin that it doesn’t prevent water from reaching the skin and that it is too little for it to change the mutlak water attribute.
May Allah SWT grant us all a clear understanding in practising this religion. Amin.
 Surah al-Ma’idah: 6
 See Tafsir al-Maraghi, 6/61
 See al-Mu‘tamad fi al-Fiqh al-Syafi‘i,1/70.
 See al-Fiqh al-Manhaji, 1/55.
 Narrated by Muslim (241)
 Narrated by Muslim (243)
 See al-Majmu‘ Syarh al-Muhazzab, 1/467-468.
 See Nail al-Raja’, pg. 75; Kasyifah al-Saja, 108)