Slathering or spraying on sunscreen isn’t always easy, but taking one of several pills claiming to offer sun protection instead is just going to leave you with sun-related skin damage, according to the Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA is cracking down on so-called sunscreen pills, which are dietary supplements that claim to offer protection from ultraviolet rays.
Products like Sunsafe Rx say that taking the pill protects you from ultraviolet light, including UVA and UVB rays, which approach from the sun and can lead to sunburns, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. But there’s a reason that sounds too superb to be proper.
“We’ve found products purporting to supply protection from the sun that aren’t delivering the advertised benefits,” according to a statement from FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb. “Instead they’re misleading consumers, and putting people at risk.”
The concern, according to the FDA, is claims that could lead consumers to believe these pills could prevent sunburn or skin cancer and be used as a replacement for traditional sun protection.
“There’s no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen,” said Gottlieb.
What these products beget in common is they are derived from an extract from a Central American fern called Polypodium leucotomos.
There are some data showing Polypodium leucotomos can provide a bit of ultraviolet protection, said Dr. Laura Ferris, a dermatologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
“But that being said, nobody has studied it in the way to say, ‘Can it meet the claims that some of these products are making?'” Ferris told BuzzFeed News. “Nobody has studied it as a replacement for sunscreen.”
Essentially, bigger, more rigorous studies need to be done before Polypodium leucotomos pills can meet their claims. The potential side effects would also need to be studied.
“These companies were instructed to right shameful 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,” Gottlieb said in the statement.
According to Ferris, the best and only ways to protect yourself from sun damage are the same as they’ve always been — sunscreen, protective clothing, hats, and avoiding peak sun hours.
“The concern is that people will stop doing things that are proven to work,” she said.