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Be Warned, These Pills Are Definitely Not A Replacement For Sunscreen

Can you pop a pill instead of using sunscreen? No, and companies have to stop claiming their plant-based dietary supplements work, the FDA said.

Posted on May 23, 2018, at 4:33 p.m. ET

The Food and Drug Administration cracked down this week on the makers of sunscreen pills or dietary supplements that claim to help protect you from ultraviolet light.

Creative-family / Getty Images

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 come from the sun and can lead to sunburns, premature aging of the skin, and skin cancer. But there's a reason that sounds too good to be true.

"We’ve found products purporting to provide 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 have in common is they are derived from an extract from a Central American fern called Polypodium leucotomos.

One of the brands whom the FDA sent a warning letter to, as seen on Amazon.

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.

That's why companies that make these products — including Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, Sunsafe Rx, Solaricare, and Sunergetic — are being told by the FDA to change their marketing strategies.

"These companies were instructed to correct all 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.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.