Disregard the raving reviews from wellness bloggers and exuberant claims on Instagram ads, because sunscreen pills – the hot new item in beauty and personal care – don’t work.
In a statement released yesterday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns consumers that the only products that can block UV rays from harming your skin are those that actually go on your skin.
“There’s no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen,” reads the announcement.
“We’ve found products purporting to provide protection from the sun that aren’t delivering the advertised benefits. Instead they’re misleading consumers, and putting people at risk.”
The agency called out four products in particular – Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, Sunsafe Rx, Solaricare, and Sunergetic – for their unsubstantiated claims that a dietary supplement could prevent sunburn, reduce early skin aging from sun exposure, or protect from risk of skin cancers.
“Consumers should be watchful for unscrupulous companies making unproven claims,” they continue.
One popular supplement that was not mentioned is Heliocare, a capsule marketed for daily consumption that contains extract from a South American fern called P. leucotomos. Unlike many other “oral sunscreen” products, Heliocare was actually evaluated in a published clinical trial that showed twice-daily consumption led to fewer sunburns compared to a placebo.
Interestingly, the group taking P. leucotomos were also able to withstand higher doses of UV radiation before skin damage set in during a slightly comical laboratory experiment wherein a small area of the subjects’ buttocks was exposed to brief sessions of UV-B light.
Granted, this study was both quite small and funded by the manufacturers; yet its results allow the company to back up the marketed benefits of the product with the all-important phrase “clinically proven”. Additionally, the labeling notes that Heliocare is meant to be used alongside topical sunblock.
Of course, any item that falls under the label of "supplement" does not need to undergo the same rigorous pre-market safety and efficacy testing, nor follow the same strict manufacturing guidelines that the FDA requires of medical substances.
For that reason, many companies are able to hawk their wares in a comfortable gray area where they can make nearly any claim, as long as the bottle is labeled as a supplement and the description does not report to treat, diagnose, cure, or alleviate any disease.
Per the FDA consumer updates page, “the law does not require the manufacturer or seller to prove to FDA's satisfaction that the claim is accurate or truthful before it appears on the product.”
Rather, it is not until after a marketed product is noted to present a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury, or be found to contain adulterated or mislabeled ingredients, that the FDA will actually step in – as in this case.
Now, don't forget to use a topical sunscreen every day.