Guys, guys, guys: sunscreen pills? Are you kidding me?
Apparently not, because tons of companies are claiming that taking a pill can actually protect your skin against damage from UV rays.
Now, the Food and Drug Administration is telling people they should take a hard pass.
In a new statement, the FDA says that so-called sunscreen pills are totally bogus, and they’re not holding back. “These companies…are putting people’s health at risk by giving consumers a false sense of security that a dietary supplement could prevent sunburn, reduce early skin aging caused by the sun, or protect from the risks of skin cancer,” the FDA says in the statement.
The FDA also sent out warning letters to companies that are (illegally, they point out) shilling pills and capsules that make unproven claims about protecting people from harmful sun exposure. Pretty crazy, right?
Wait, who’s selling this stuff?
The FDA called out a few specific companies in their statement: The makers of Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, Sunsafe Rx, Solaricare, and Sunergetic were all issued warning letters asking them to correct violations.
Sunsafe Rx, for example, claims that “just one capsule per day provides natural, healthy, anti-aging protection from UV rays,” per the product’s website.
Solaricare actually claims that it’s “used…for treating skin disorders such as psoriasis, eczema, polymorphic light eruption, and sunburn.” (It should be noted that PharmacyDirect.com has since taken down the product.)
Sunergetic goes a step further, saying the product “helps protect the skin against adverse effects of sun exposure,” along with highlighting customer reviews, like one that claims “[Sunergetic is] basically an oral sunscreen…This would be especially useful for people who have had skin cancer, are at risk for skin cancer.”
Okay, but what are sunscreen pills?
There is no hard and fast rule for what, exactly, constitutes a sunscreen pill. But companies that sell them claim (directly or indirectly) that they help block the sun’s UV rays just as well as regular sunscreen.
Unfortunately, sun protection just doesn’t work that way (i.e., from the inside, out). “Most [sunscreens] contain physical and/or chemical UV blockers that absorb the sun’s harmful rays and protect the skin from DNA damage and premature aging,” says Gary Goldenberg, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. You just can’t get that in pill form.
Damn. So how were sunscreen pills allowed to be on the market at all?
Supplements are a largely unregulated industry. While the FDA can step in and call companies out for making fake claims about their supplements, these companies don’t have to have FDA approval before selling their pills and tablets like the makers of drugs do.
Basically, it’s all just potentially harmful bullshit. “For all these products, it is incorrect to call them sunscreen pills,” Goldenberg says. He add that these products gives users a false sense of security that can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer and melanoma.
So…skip the pills and just stick to actual sunscreen?
Pretty much. The pills are, at best, a waste of your money, and at worst, a super-effective way (if you’re using them alone) to get a nasty sunburn or even skin cancer.
After all of this, it begs repeating that the only way to successfully protect your skin from harmful UV rays (besides avoiding the sun entirely) is by wearing sunscreen. And sunscreen = the gloppy stuff you slather or spray on your skin, not a pill.
While you’re at it, re-apply the stuff regularly. Also, try to limit your sun exposure and cover up with a hat and hang in the shade when you do venture outside. And maybe just keep this information in your back pocket for the next time something seems to good to be true—because it probably is.
The bottom line: Skip sunscreen pills and stick to slathering on lotion and wearing protective clothing.
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