We’re all aware of how the hot sun and its ultra violet rays can be damaging to our skin. This is why we always advocate using a sunscreen whenever you decide to pay your favorite sun and sand paradise a visit. But for many people, remembering to constantly reapply sunscreen can be quite annoying, especially when they’re already having fun swimming or wading in the water. This is perhaps why sunscreen pills have become quite popular over the last few years. Simply pop a pill and you’re good to go. How convenient is that? But wait. What are sunscreen pills anyway? What are they made of? And more importantly, do they really work?
The Sunscreen Pill’s “Ultimate” Ingredient
Like all other supplements, sunscreen pills are composed of various chemicals and compounds which should help protect you from the harmful effects of the sun. Of the different ingredients contained in these pills, Polypodium leucotomos is considered to be the ‘true’ source of its effectiveness.
Polypodium leucotomos is an extract taken from a fern plant that grows in Central America. There are studies showing the potential of this extract to increase the amount of time it takes for the sun’s ultra violet rays to affect or ‘burn’ the skin. Simply put, this means that you’ll have more time lying in your favorite beach blanket and not worry about getting burned.
One research has shown that taking 240 mg of oral Polypodium leucotomos extract twice a day for 60 days can reduce the damage from ultraviolet radiation. Aside from that, there are also clinical trials which indicate its potential use for treating psoriasis, eczema, and melasma.
Do Sunscreen Pills ‘Really’ Work?
Despite what they know about the fern extract Polypodium leucotomos, it seems that even the experts are still unsure about the effectiveness of sunscreen pills. Accordingly, the main understanding is that Polypodium leucotomos acts as an antioxidant which protects the skin from oxidative damage caused by being exposed to the sun.
In addition, sunscreen pills are not awarded a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) rating, which is one of the most important thing you should be looking for when buying a water sports sunscreen (or just about any type of sunscreen you feel like using). Why? One reason why this is so is because SPF ratings are only given to products which are applied to one’s skin.
There are studies though that show that sunscreen pills can provide a level of sun protection which is equivalent to an SPF rating of three to five. Unfortunately, this is way below the recommended effective levels which is 30 and more.
Last May 2018, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a statement concerning sunscreen pills as part of their efforts to keep consumers safe from the harmful effects of sun exposure and at the same time ensure that sunscreens in general remain safe and beneficial for use.
Accordingly, the FDA has issued letters to companies marketing sunscreen pills as dietary supplements that make unproven claims about protecting consumers from the harmful effects of the sun. This is especially since these claims have failed to meet the FDA’s standards for safety and effectiveness. They have found that these products aren’t delivering the advertised benefits, which hints that the companies are misleading consumers and putting them at risk.
Remember that one of the mandates of the FDA is to ensure that the products being sold to consumers deliver their advertised benefits. Otherwise, this puts the consumers’ health at risk by giving them a false sense of security that a dietary supplement could prevent sunburn, reduce early skin aging caused by the sun, or offer protection from the risks of skin cancer.
An actual line from the FDA’s press release states: “Consumers should be watchful for unscrupulous companies making unproven claims… There’s no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen.”
So What Now?
So the FDA and every other dermatologist in the world practically agrees that no sunscreen pill will ever replace a good old sunscreen lotion. Does that mean that all sunscreen supplements, whether pill or capsule, is a sham?
Well, not quite.
Experts do agree that there are certain kinds of antioxidant dietary supplements that can help in the fight against sun-related damage and aging. Again, and this bears repeating, these are ‘supplements’ and are not marketed as a replacement for actual sunscreen lotions (So yes, you still need to apply sunscreen every now and then, even if you’re in the middle of your beach volleyball match).
Oral Supplements for Protecting Against Sun Damage
In order to protect yourself from the damaging effects of the hot sun, the best advice would still be to avoid extreme exposure to the sun, wear a sun protective clothing and lather on some sunscreen. However, it is safe to assume that taking certain oral supplements can provide you with added protection against sunburns and skin cancer.
Certain supplements contain vitamins and minerals which, when combined with an antioxidant rich diet, can promote sun damage repair from the inside out.
Heliocare has been around for a number of years now and is recommended for use by many dermatologists around the world. It is not a sunscreen pill per se (though it is a natural product derived from fern extract similar to other sunscreen pills), but this oral antioxidant is said to help with skin damage resulting from smog, pollution, and infrared rays by targeting free radicals, the chemical culprits behind aging. Anecdotal evidences also show that this oral antioxidant can help improve inflammatory skin conditions such as melasma.
Just like Heliocare, antioxidants like Vitamin E work to neutralize free radicals and stop them from causing damage to your skin. You can take vitamin E either as part of a multivitamin or as a separate supplement. Aside from supplements, you can increase your vitamin E intake by adding more nuts and seeds such as almonds, hazelnuts, and sunflower seeds into your diet.
As an antioxidant, its main function in skin care is to protect against sun damage. Vitamin E absorbs the harmful UV light from the sun when applied to the skin. Also, if you have particularly dry skin, vitamin E can possibly help counteract a lack of sebum, a substance produced by our bodies that helps protect it from the sun. Furthermore, vitamin E is also known to regenerate new skin cells which may help with sun spots on skin caused by sun damage.
Green tea is popular for being extremely high in antioxidants and polyphenols which reduce inflammation and improve overall skin complexion. The Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) found in green tea has been shown to have generalized anti-cancer effects as well. There are clinical trials underway to establish the effectiveness of oral and topical EGCG with regard to basal cell skin cancer.
Vitamin C Supplements
Vitamin C is another potent antioxidant that encourages collagen production, protects the skin from sun damage and promotes elasticity. Adequate vitamin C intake can also help repair and prevent dry skin.
There are also studies showing that it may help prevent and treat ultra violet damage. This is why vitamin C is one reason why many antiaging skin care products have vitamin C as one of their key ingredients because it is believed that it can help fend off the signs of aging due to its vital role in the body’s natural collagen synthesis.
Vitamin C is found in high levels in both the outer layer (epidermis) and inner layer (dermis) of the skin. Although this vitamin is already present in our skins, taking vitamin C orally can enhance the effectiveness of topical sunscreens.
Because vitamin C is prevalent in most dietary supplements and the food we eat, it is quite rare for anyone to experience a deficiency of this nutrient. However, if you want to increase your vitamin C intake (in the hopes that it will give you more protection from the sun while you’re lounging in your beach chair), you can do so by eating more fruits and vegetables like oranges, strawberries, broccoli, and spinach.
Vitamin B Complex
Vitamin B complex can help rebuild your skin tissue, improve skin moisture, and help minimize dark spots or hyperpigmentation caused by sun damage. It may also help reduce the signs and effects of aging in the skin.
Nicotinamide, also referred to as niacinamide, is a form of vitamin B-3, or niacin. It is present in a variety of foods, including milk, eggs, fish, green vegetables, and lean meats. It is also available as a dietary supplement. Interestingly, it may also help with Melanoma.
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer, and exposure to ultra violet radiation is considered a key risk factor for melanoma as it damages the DNA in skin cells. Numerous studies that have previously investigated the effects of nicotinamide against melanoma cancer cells, and the results suggest that the vitamin may be an effective candidate for prevention, especially for patients at high risk of melanoma.
There are also a lot of researches that reveal how nicotinamide can protect the skin against the harmful effects of UV radiation. Nicotinamide replenishes cells’ energy stores, which are depleted by UV exposure. This extra energy enables cells to repair any DNA damage more efficiently, and also helps to reduce the immune suppressive effects of sunlight on the skin.
Vitamin K is essential in aiding the body’s process of blood clotting, which helps the body heal wounds, bruises, and areas affected by surgery. The basic functions of vitamin K are also thought to help certain skin conditions as well, such as stretch marks, spider veins, scars, and dark spots.
Vitamin K can be found in many different topical creams for the skin, and it can help treat a variety of skin conditions. Doctors frequently use creams that contain vitamin K on patients who have just undergone surgery to help reduce swelling and bruising and speed up skin healing. However, research on vitamin K’s effects on the skin is more limited than that for vitamins E and C.
Just like vitamin C deficiencies, vitamin K deficiencies are rare since this vitamin is abundant in the foods we eat. If you feel that you need to add more vitamin K to your diet though, you can try eating more kale, spinach, lettuce, cabbage and green beans.
Beta-carotene is a plant-derived carotenoid and possesses pro-vitamin A activity. Oral supplementation of beta-carotene protects against UV-induced erythema (skin redness). While beta-carotene and its antioxidant effect in your skin increases defenses against UV radiation, maintaining skin health and appearance, the application of a reliable topical sunscreen is still required.
Again supplements are not a replacement for sun protection but should only be used as an additional precaution against sun damage. So far, experts agree that swallowing a pill will never take the place of applying a topical sunscreen and wearing sun protective clothing when it comes to protecting yourself from the sun.
Globo Surf Overview
The warm rays of the sun can feel good on the skin, especially if you’ve been bundled up in your sweatshirt and blankets over the last few months. However, it remains that too much exposure to the sun and its harmful ultra violet rays can lead to skin damage, sunburns, and eventually skin cancer. True, sunscreen pills may sound like a very convenient way of avoiding the said skin problems, which is probably why many people have gone to their doctors and the internet asking “what are sunscreen pills” and if they really work. But so far, their manufacturers and marketers have yet to present solid and reliable evidence to back up their claims. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for the old ways of protecting ourselves from the sun, which includes applying a generous amount of FDA approved topical sunscreen, wearing a beach hat and other sun-protective clothing, and staying under a big beach umbrella when the sun gets too hot.
- FDA Statement Regarding Sunscreen Pills, U.S. Food & Drug Administration
- Could Protecting Your Skin from the Sun Be Easy as Popping a Pill? Science Daily