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Do sunscreen pills work?

LoonyLolipop asks…Many news articles are gushing about the revolutionary development of sunscreen supplements, specifically SunPill and Heliocare. These products would be a wonderful alternative to topical sunscreens because I am very allergic to oxybenzone and avenobenzene, two common ingredients in over-the-counter topical sun blocks. However, no article has mentioned whether this pill offers broad spectrum protection. It seems like I can get more effective and less expensive sun protection by wearing a hat and drinking green tea. I admit that I am a cynical person and can be fairly stubborn. Since you have more access and knowledge about scientific breakthroughs, are these sunscreen supplements over-hyped products? Or is there a sizable benefit that warrants the expensive price?

Left Brain enlightens…

I agree that sunscreen pills would be a great invention. Slathering on sunscreen lotions multiple times a day can be a bit of a pain. Of course, using sunscreen is one of the most important things you can do to prevent skin cancer and keep you skin looking young and healthy.

Sunscreen pills

There are a few different options for sunscreen pills. These include the following

HeliocareHeliocare contains antioxidants derived from a natural fern (Polypodium leucotomos). These antioxidants are supposed to reduce skin-damaging free radicals which could theoretically have benefits to skin elasticity, reduce sun damage and increase tolerance to the sun. There is some evidence that the natural fern antioxidants taken orally can decrease UV damage. However, the study was pretty small (9 people) so more work needs to be done.

Verdict – There is some evidence that Heliocare supplements work.

SunPillSunpill contains a variety of antioxidants including Polypodium leucotomos extract, Green tea extract, pomegranate, etc. Again, these have some theoretical support but the studies have all been small and should only be considered preliminary.

Verdict – There is some evidence SunPills work and they are less expensive than Heliocare.

Murad Pomphenol SunguardThis product contains a high level of pomegranate extract and some studies like this one suggest that it can help inhibit sun damage pigmentation.

Verdict – There is some evidence that Murad is somewhat effective.

Potential Problems with Sunscreen Pills

While there is some evidence that these products can work, there are a couple of problems with them.

The first issue with these sunscreen pills is that none of them claim to be a replacement for topically applied sunscreens. So, if you still have to apply sunscreen, what’s the point of taking an expensive supplement? At over $50 for 60 pills one has to wonder if it’s really worth it.

The next issue is that it’s unclear how long the product will work. With a topical sunscreen you know approximately how long it will last and when you need to reapply. With these supplements their effectiveness will depend on how your digestive system works. And this will be significantly different from person to person.

Perhaps the most significant problem with these products is that they are not regulated by the FDA, so you don’t even know if they contain the ingredients they claim to have. I’m always skeptical of supplements.

Beauty Brains bottom line

While sunscreen pills have some science suggesting they work, they are not a replacement for topical sunscreens. Add to that the price and they hardly seem worth the expense. I’d wait until the price comes down and products become more effective.

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  • Diane March 9, 2015, 4:47 pm

    Thanks for the article The Beauty Brains. I know it’s an old article, but there is also now a new product called Sunsafe Rx. It’s also a pill that protects your skin from the sun. It’s made with polypodium leucotomos extract and also a number of other natural antioxidants that have all been clinically shown to protect skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Plus the ingredients are good for your skin and eyes.

    It can be pricey, and no it doesn’t purport to replace sunscreen, but it does help reduce sun damage. And every little bit of protection helps, especially since the product is always working: even when you don’t even think about using sunscreen lotions during all those times you might be in the sun for shorter periods of time, such as on your drive to and from work or while walking outside or gardening, etc. The sun ages your skin more than anything else, and some healthy protection, without blocking your production of Vitamin D, can only be beneficial.

    The is a lot of clinical data behind the use of the specific ingredients in Sunsafe Rx. Also, supplements are regulated by the FDA (just differently than drugs). Sunsafe Rx is manufactured in the USA accordingly to strict GMP practices in an approved facility with ingredients approved for sale by the FDA.

    At any rate, it does seem amazing that something you eat or take orally can protect your skin from sun damage, but it does! Of course, staying out of the sun as much as possible, and/or covering up when necessary, is only good practice when protecting your skin from the aging effects of the sun.