Several drugs manufacturers in the US are now producing supplements which they claim can reduce the risk of sunburn. These products, which are Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, Sunsafe Rx, Solaricare and Sunergetic, come with strong claims from the companies that produce them. The claims include that the supplement can “strengthen your skin’s defenses against ultraviolet radiation”, “basically an oral sunscreen” and they can “defend your skin and eyes from sun damage”.
Are they too good to be true? According to the FDA, yes they are. In fact, the agency has recently issued warning letters to the manufacturers of the above listed products. In a press release, they said that the supplements were “putting people’s health at risk by giving consumers a false sense of security that a dietary supplement could prevent sunburn, reduce early skin aging caused by the sun, or protect from the risks of skin cancer.”
This follows similar concerns, which were expressed recently by US Sen. Chuck Schumer, who warned that the pills need to be removed from sale, both in retail stores and online. He said they “mislead consumers and carelessly put people’s health at risk without thinking about the long-term effects unprotected sun exposure can have on a person.”
But, because the manufacturers of the pills are claiming their products are “nutritional supplements” rather than drugs, they are able to sell them in major pharmacies across the US without the approval or regulation of the FDA. According to Dr. Kenneth Linden, a professor of dermatology at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine and the co-director of its Melanoma Center, this practice allows them to sell products with very little evidence that they actually work.
However, the manufacturers claim that, as these products contain antioxidants, they can help to protect against free radicals caused by exposure to UVA radiation. Additionally, two of the supplements in question contain lycopene, which some studies have shown can reduce the risk of cancer, as well as other illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease.
Another reason why some people might use the supplement is the convenience of not having to apply sunscreen. Dr. David Leffell, chief of dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology at the Yale School of Medicine said: “Throughout the history of humankind, people have gravitated towards unproven remedies. In different generations, things might be called snake oil; in other generations, they’d be called fraudulent. People’s appetite to believe in something that’s too good to be true is limitless.”
In a statement, Napa Valley Bioscience, the manufacturer of Sunsafe Rx, responde: “We don’t market Sunsafe Rx as a sunscreen and we certainly don’t tell consumers that they don’t need any other protection from the sun or that they don’t also need to use a topical sunscreen. Skin damage from the sun has reached unprecedented levels in the US and we need all the extra help we can get.