Can a Pill Protect Your Skin from the Sun? 4 Reasons to Skip “Edible Sunscreen”

Posted September 18, 2017 by Paul M. Parker, M.D., FACS

All day sun protection without having to slather on greasy sunscreen sounds too good to be true—and it is. While the temptation of “edible sunscreen” products that claim to protect you from the inside out is understandable, you’re better off sticking to more traditional topical products if you value the health of your skin.

What is edible sunscreen?

Ingestible sunscreens are products that profess to help protect your skin from burning and the damaging effects of the sun—not through a topical cream but rather a pill (such as Helio) or liquid product (UVO).

When ingestible sunscreens came on the market, they had a certain appeal for those of us who prize convenient, easy-to-use solutions to some of our most common concerns. Sun protection in the form of a supplement seems like a fantastic way to to ensure you’re taking care of your skin without having to remember to apply sunscreen.

Does edible sunscreen work?

Unfortunately, the claims surrounding these products are misleading at best—and potentially dangerous if you use them to replace your normal SPF. While the appeal of alternative sunscreen products is understandable, relying solely on ingestible sunscreen will most definitely put you and your skin at risk.

Here are four reasons to steer clear:

  1. They are not backed by science. There is no scientific evidence that these products function as well as traditional sun protection. In fact, a close look at the marketing and branding shows that they are careful to avoid making concrete claims about what the products even do.
  2. They haven’t been thoroughly vetted or clinically proven. You’ll notice that none of these products show an SPF factor on their packaging. That’s because no level of protection has been proven. In contrast, topical sunscreens that list an SPF have been vetted and follow FDA requirements. So stick with options that clearly proclaim their specific SPF level—they’ve been proven effective.
  3. Their ingredients don’t pack a punch. While some of these products do use ingredients that have some scientific basis in skin protection, they are not provided in strengths that would make a difference. For example, Polypodium leucotomos can help those with sun sensitivity or to increase the time it takes for skin to burn, but its actual sun protection is still only equivalent to an SPF of three or five.
  4. You are unnecessarily putting yourself at risk. Foregoing a topical SPF 30+ sunscreen will lead to more frequent sunburns—and increase your risk of skin cancer.

If you require more convincing, read “I tried edible sunscreen. Here’s what happened,” a humorous essay by Thrillist’s Wil Fulton. In the article, the author recounts his experience with ingestible sunscreen, from his initial excitement to his inevitable, incredibly painful, sunburn.

Alternative sunscreen solutions

If you are still hoping for an alternative to traditional sunscreen products due to skin sensitivity or a dislike of greasy lotions, there are other options to consider without risking your skin with questionable supplements.

  • Try a different sunscreen. There are several brands of sunscreen available for those who detest the feeling of greasy creams. This round-up of the best non-greasy sunscreens by Cosmo is a great place to start.
  • Invest in protective clothing. For those who spend a lot of time outdoors, picking up a few key pieces of UV-blocking clothing is a great way to keep your skin safe. Just remember to cover any exposed areas with sunscreen.
  • Wear a UV monitoring bracelet. These personal UV monitors may be a nice tool to remind you to apply sunscreen or seek shade, but you should still reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
  • Try, but don’t rely, on supplements. While vitamins C and E have demonstrated that they can protect the skin from damage, they’re not an adequate sun protection method. Instead, consider them an additional level of protection if you are particularly prone to burns or other sun damage.

Whether you’re seeking sunscreen for sensitive skin or simply want to know how to avoid a sunburn, it’s pretty clear: edible sunscreen is not the easy way out.

If you need help choosing the perfect products for you, we encourage you to contact us today. Our friendly, experienced medical aestheticians and skincare specialists can evaluate your skin and make expert recommendations for medical-grade sunscreen products to keep you protected all year long.

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