Miracle Sunscreen Pill — Sensation or Scam?
For decades, bronzed skin was universally regarded as a sign of health and vigor. Until, that is, medical science concluded that the phrase “healthy tan” was a contradiction in terms. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Experts predict that one of every five Americans are at risk of developing skin cancer in their lifetime, and years of rigorous studies have shown that exposure to sunlight is the greatest contributor to this often-deadly disease.
Still, it’s been difficult to dislodge the perception that tanned-equals-health from the public’s mind. Since researchers first identified a definitive link between exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun as well as tanning beds, many people have either ignored warnings to apply sunscreen whenever they are exposed to UV light (and to avoid tanning beds), or have sought other, hopefully safer, methods to obtain that “golden glow.”
Your board-certified dermatologists at Genesis Dermatology in Jupiter, Florida, have received a number of questions from our clients about the so-called “sunscreen pill” that supposedly allows users to safely bask in the sun. These over-the-counter (OTC) pills claim such benefits as “defending your skin and eyes from sun damage,” and “strengthening your skin’s defenses against UV radiation.”
Much as we’d like to have such a supplement available to everyone, it’s unfortunately a fact that these pills will not protect your skin or eyes from the damaging effects of UV radiation. The U.S. government has become so alarmed by the claims of these “sunscreen pills,” in late May the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter to the manufacturers of these OTC products.
“These companies—marketing products called Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, Sunsafe Rx, Solaricare and Sunergetic—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 said in a news release. “These companies were instructed to correct all violations associated with their products and were advised to review product websites and product labeling to ensure that the claims they are making don’t violate federal law.”
Nevertheless, as of this month these and similar products were still available online, including at one of the largest online sites.
As CNN reported, these products often include antioxidants, which manufacturers claim will protect against free radicals caused by exposure to solar UVA radiation. CNN spoke with Dr. David Leffell, chief of dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology at the Yale School of Medicine, who suggested people’s willingness to believe such unproven claims stems from their failure to regularly use sunscreens, and the hassle involved in using them properly, i.e., reapplying at least every two hours.
“Throughout the history of humankind, people have gravitated towards unproven remedies,” Leffell said. “In different generations, things might be called snake oil; in other generations, they’d be called fraudulent. People’s appetite to believe in something that’s too good to be true is limitless.”
This, combined with the many links provided on some of the products’ websites purporting to demonstrate scientific research validating their claims, has caused a surge in these pills’ popularity. The FDA in its news release warned:
“Consumers should be watchful for unscrupulous companies making unproven claims. When the FDA sees companies taking advantage of people’s desire to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun, we’ll step in. There’s no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen.”
However, there is a fern extract called polypodium leucotomos that when taken by mouth daily, can help maintain your skin’s ability to protect itself against the aging effects of free radicals year-round. This is a clinically proven patented extract that we recommend our patients consider adding to their anti-aging regimen.
Because our dermatologists have seen first hand the damage UV radiation can do to skin—from premature wrinkling and skin aging to various types of skin cancer—we will continue to recommend to our clients that they use an SPF sunscreen of 30 or higher any time they’re exposed to sunlight. If you have any questions about this or any other issue, please feel free to contact us.