Does oral sunscreen work for skin protection from sun damage?

A woman using sunscreen

Slather on the sunscreen, especially 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply it every two hours. These are rules that we must follow to safeguard our skin. Sunscreen is a product that can protect us from harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. There are lotions, creams, sticks and sprays that you can choose from. But have you heard about the new kid on the block – the oral sunscreen or sunscreen pill? You can simply pop the pill in to protect your skin. But is the oral sunscreen better than topical sunscreen? Before you decide to skip the sunscreen step from your skin care routine, know all about oral sunscreen.

What is sunscreen?

Sunscreen is a skincare product designed to protect the skin from the harmful effects of UV radiation from the sun. The radiation is divided into UVA and UVB rays, both of which can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer, says dermatologist Dr Vijay Singhal. Available in various forms like creams, lotions, gels and sprays, sunscreens either absorb or scatter UV rays.

Sunscreen can protect your skin from sun damage. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

What is oral sunscreen?

Oral sunscreen refers to dietary supplements claimed to provide protection against UV radiation. These supplements typically contain antioxidants and other ingredients purported to enhance the skin’s resistance to sun damage, says the expert. Here’s the composition of oral sunscreen:

  • Extract of polypodium leucotomos, a fern native to Central and South America, known for its photoprotective properties.
  • Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant found in certain algae and seafood.
  • Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that the body converts to vitamin A.
  • Lycopene, found in tomatoes, is an antioxidant that helps protect skin cells.
  • Vitamins C and E are known for their antioxidant properties.

What are the benefits of oral sunscreen?

Having oral sunscreen may offer the following benefits:

1. May reduce sunburn

It may reduce the severity of sunburn due to ingredients like polypodium leucotomos extract. When polypodium leucotomos extract (240 mg) was taken by healthy adults twice every day for 60 days, it was found to be an effective means for reducing the UV rays’ damaging effects, including sunburn, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology.

2. May improve skin health

Antioxidants help to neutralise free radicals, which are unstable atoms capable of damaging cells, and causing ageing. They may potentially reduce photoaging and the risk of skin cancer, says the expert.

3. May enhance skin resilience

Regular use of oral sunscreen may improve the skin’s overall resilience to UV damage. Follow the dosage instructed by the manufacturer. It may vary, but typical recommendations for products with polypodium leucotomos extract are around 240 mg taken before sun exposure.

A woman eating oral sunscreen
Oral sunscreen is not as effective as topical sunscreen. Image courtesy: Freepik

Oral sunscreen vs Topical sunscreen

Topical sunscreens are the primary defense against UV radiation, says Dr Singhal. Here’s a comparison of why topical sunscreen is generally preferred over oral sunscreen:

1. Effectiveness

Topical sunscreen provides a physical barrier on the skin, directly blocking and absorbing UV rays. Oral sunscreen may offer indirect protection by enhancing the skin’s natural defenses against UV damage.

2. Control and reliability

Topical sunscreen allows precise control over application, ensuring all exposed skin is covered. Oral sunscreen effects are systemic and less controllable in terms of targeted protection.

3. Immediate protection

Topical sunscreen provides immediate protection upon application. Oral sunscreen requires consistent use over time to build up effectiveness.

4. Safety and regulation

Topical sunscreen is regulated by health authorities and extensively tested for efficacy and safety. Oral sunscreen is less regulated, with limited scientific evidence supporting their efficacy. In fact, in 2018, the United States Food and Drug Administration warned people to steer clear of oral sunscreen. Such pills cannot protect against sun damage like sunburn or skin cancer, according to the FDA.

Also read: Sunscreen vs sunblock: What is better to protect your skin?

Which foods can protect skin from sun damage?

Certain foods are known to offer some level of protection against sun damage due to their antioxidant content:

  • Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, so they may help reduce the risk of sunburn.
  • Carrots and sweet potatoes are high in beta-carotene, which may provide skin protection.
  • Green tea contains polyphenols that may help protect against UV damage.
  • Citrus fruits have vitamin C, which may help repair damaged skin cells.

Antioxidants in these foods may neutralise free radicals caused by UV radiation, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, and in turn protect the skin from damage, says the expert.

You may be curious about oral sunscreen, especially if you don’t want to spend much time on skin care routine. But topical sunscreens are the best and primary form of sun protection.

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