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What is Wash-On Sunscreen?

Published on 11/15/2021
Sun CareSunscreenHarmful Effects of UV Light
woman standing under shower

Wash-On Sunscreen: Cleanser, Sunscreen, or Both?

Everyone knows the importance of sun protection in skin cancer prevention. We are all told to avoid the sun, wear long sleeve clothes, and wear sunscreen. But how many people actually do that? A 2015 study found that less than 15% of men, and 30% of women in the US use sunscreen regularly when outside for more than an hour.[1]

Some skip sunscreen because they don’t have time for an extra step in their skin-care regimen. Others skip it because they dislike the look and feel of sunscreen. Let’s face it—although sunscreen is arguably the most important step in any skin care regimen, many may feel that it is cumbersome to spread all over the body. As a result, there has been much interest in an alternative form of sunscreen that can be easily integrated into daily routine.

What Is Wash-On Sunscreen?

Wash-on sunscreen is a body wash or cleanser that deposits sun-protective active ingredients on your skin, even after rinsing. To get the most benefit, the product would be used during a morning shower before sun exposure. The cleanser should be applied to wet skin, and worked into a lather, allowing it to maintain contact with the skin for 2 minutes, before rinsing it off.

Not many formulations are available commercially, due to difficulties creating a formulation that allows for a high enough SPF and is also long-lasting.[2,3] Other problems encountered in the past include requiring over a dozen applications to be effective and the separation of sunscreen and detergent in the container.

How Does It Work?

The wash-on sunscreens currently available rely on microencapsulation of active ingredients within a positively-charged coating derived of silica or cellulose, allowing it to bind to negatively-charged particles on the skin surface.[2,3] The capsules are able to remain positively-charged in the container, as well as when applied on the skin (pH), and the attraction of opposite charges is believed to help the compound adhere better.

A common method of encapsulation is through sol-gel microcapsules. Sol-gel microcapsules became popular due to the concern that ingredients found in sunscreen would permeate through the skin barrier and enter the bloodstream, causing irritation and allergic reactions. Compounds are enclosed within silica glass beads, preventing the absorption of encapsulated ingredients, stabilizing the compound, and allowing for control of release of the substance.[4,5]

Is It Effective?

As of now, there are no clinical trials testing the efficacy of wash-on sunscreen. Although the products currently available claim to deliver an SPF of 30, there have been no studies on whether or not this claim is true. In the meantime, it is recommended that you use a reliable form of sunscreen even while using these products.

Key Takeaways

  1. Wash-on sunscreen is marketed as a cleanser that leaves behind sun-protective active ingredients, even after rinsing.
  2. Although the idea of a wash-on sunscreen is enticing, continue to use a reliable form of sunscreen until there is more evidence supporting its efficacy.

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