Do Sunscreen Pills like SunAssure Really Work?

Holding vitamin capsule

Because of my fair complexion, going outside for a day in the sun can involve a lot of planning, from picking the right sunscreen to buying giant sun hats to seeking out the shade to hide in. If I could take a pill that would boost my natural protection against the sun’s UV rays (that definitely worked), I absolutely would. Recently, there have been claims from companies making products like SunAssure ($29.95, sunassure.com) that their products will do just that.

But I’m pretty skeptical, partially because the FDA doesn’t have to review dietary supplements before they hit the market, and only takes action if the supplements are a danger to consumers. This means the individual companies are responsible for determining safety and for deciding whether there is adequate evidence to back their ingredients and subsequent marketing (FDA).

So can a combination of antioxidants really give you as much protection as slathering on the SPF topically? Short answer: No, but it might help make up for certain vitamins and minerals you aren’t getting enough of in your diet that are a part of the body’s natural sun protection. But they aren’t for everyone.

And not matter what, you still need topical sunscreen.

[Read More: New Study: Wearing Sunscreen Every Day Can Keep Aging Away]

What Vitamins in SunAssure Contribute to Sun Protection?

The vitamin E and C in SunAssure are a part of your bodies natural sun protection, while vitamin A is involved in mitigating sun damage.

The vitamin E and C in SunAssure are a part of your bodies natural sun protection, while vitamin A is involved in mitigating sun damage.

The trick behind these ingredients is, in part, the inclusion of vitamins, namely A, C, and E. These are vitamins that people should strive to get every day in their diets from fruits and vegetables. They have a lot of uses in the body, but in terms of the skin they have some pretty particular uses.

Vitamin C and E can help to slightly boost protection in the skin. In the plant world these carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lycopene, help to give fruits and vegetables their color. They also help give your skin a glow and boost skin’s natural protection from UV-light (PLoS One, NPR). A 2002 study explain that these work to protect skin by reducing its sensitivity to UV-irradiation, resulting in less erythema (skin redness), and helping to prevent photodamage, because they’re antioxidants and free-radical scavengers (Journal of Nutrition). This results in less UV damage and fewer signs of photoaging, which researchers found in 2010 and 2011 studies, respectively (British Journal of Dermatology, Experimental Dermatology).

[Read More: 4 Glowing Tan Alternatives for Beautiful Skin]

Vitamin A is thought to have chemopreventative effects by virtue of stopping UV-induced actinic damage and causing a regression of UV-induced lesions. These effects were noted in a 2004 study (Clinical Cancer Research). Orally administered vitamin A was also found to raise levels of 13-cis-retinoic acid and all- trans-retinoic acid and also results in an up-regulation of dermal cell retinoid receptors. This can also help reverse signs of visible aging by deactivating the matrix metalloproteinase that breaks down collagen.

[Read More: Infographic: How Does Retinol Work?]

Are these Vitamin Supplements Necessary? Could They Be Too Much?

Supplements are intended to supplement vitamins and minerals that might be lacking in your diet. If you already take supplements, these might cause you to get too much of something.

Supplements are intended to supplement vitamins and minerals that might be lacking in your diet. If you already take supplements, these might cause you to get too much of something.

But do you need supplements to get these benefits? Not necessarily if you already have a diet rich in these vitamins or are already taking supplements including them. Vitamins don’t work on the principle that the more your take the better the effects. There are certain amounts of them that the body requires to function optimally, so having too few of these crucial vitamins is clearly a problem. But so is having too many. And while some just leave the body, others build up and cause problems.

We know that vitamin C, for example, has a saturation point; so concentrations in the skin won’t increase indefinitely (Oregon State University). The excess will leave the body in urine. But you might not be so lucky with other vitamins. Taking too much of certain vitamins (one of these is vitamin A) or vitamin combinations can cause an overdoses. Multiple vitamin overdose can result in problems with the heart and blood, the nervous system, and muscles and joints, just to name a few (MedlinePlus). Individual vitamin overdoses will result in different problems in the body.

As with any medication or supplement, it’s important to discuss taking it with your doctor, who knows your personal medical history. He or she can discuss the effects the supplements might have on your overall health and any potential interactions with medications you’re already taking.

Zinc in Skin instead of on it?

Zinc supplements might help to boost sun protection somewhat, but they won't protect you as well as topically applied zinc oxide in the form of sunscreen.

Zinc supplements might help to boost sun protection somewhat, but they won’t protect you as well as topically applied zinc oxide in the form of sunscreen.

The presence of zinc oxide immediately caught my eye in this supplement. Zinc oxide is one of the best physical-mineral sunscreens, but it works topically by flat-out block UV-rays from getting in, so I wondered what research had found on using zinc oxide orally. While it’s definitely promising to boost skin’s protection slightly, it’s not going to have anywhere near the same protective effects as zinc oxide-based sunscreen.

One of the ways it prevents UV damage internally is by working as an antioxidant, preventing oxidative damage in cells (Biological Trace Elements Research). A 1997 study on mice showed that zinc supplements helps to prevent DNA damage caused by UVB-irradiation (Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology).

But like the supplement’s other ingredients, zinc isn’t one that you want to go above the daily-recommended value on. It can hinder the absorption of copper and depress the immune system if taken excessively (Food Cures).

Bottom Line

Should you take SunAssure to help protect your skin from the sun? While it might add to skin’s natural defenses, “sunscreen” pills would be a bit of a misnomer. SunAssure doesn’t give you the same shield from UV-rays as topical sunscreen, and you should continue to wear topically applied sunscreen regularly (and reapply often), but it could help keep your body’s natural protection working optimally.

But SunAssure may not be for everyone. If you’re already taking a multivitamin or supplements that contain the same vitamins and/or minerals, then taking these might impact your health negatively due to excesses of certain vitamins or minerals. And it’s possible to get some of the effects of these supplements if you have a diet rich in foods with plenty of the right vitamins and minerals.

The bottom line is that SunAssure can help supplement what your diet might not be giving you in terms of certain vitamins and minerals. These are a part of the body’s natural sun protection. But this isn’t the same thing as sunscreen, and it shouldn’t be used as a substitute. If you do decide to use supplements to boost sun protection, remember to talk to your doctor about it. And stop using them immediately if you suffer negative effects or symptoms of a multiple vitamin overdose.

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by Natalie Bell

3 thoughts on “Do Sunscreen Pills like SunAssure Really Work?

  1. Mae says:

    Thank you for this in-depth on SunAssure. Never heard of it before!

    I’ve heard of Sun Screen supplements, but never Sun Assure. Their website (sunassure’s, not FutureDerm) is very misleading – which implies that you can replace traditional forms of sun protection by simply taking a pill. Which further puts people at risk for sun damage and skin cancer by misrepresenting the safety and practices about sun protection.

    I would love to know a little bit more about your take on Astaxanthin (a cartenoid), which “some research supports the assumption that it may protect body tissues from oxidative and ultraviolet damage through its suppression of NF-κB activation” (wiki). I’m taking an Astaxanthin supplement in addition to topical sunscreens plus UPF protective clothing, a hat, sunglasses, shade, etc. I’ve met a doctor who developed a brand of Astaxanthin for sun protection, which he advises people use in addition to sunscreen.

    I think it’s important when talking sun protection (I work in sun protection) to not just tout sunscreen as the ONLY form of sun protection but to mention that things like UPF clothing can be a good and cost effective complement to sunscreen use. Most people do not use sunscreen effectively to protect adequately (the right amount, reapplication at the right times), so it’s important (and cost effective) to mention other forms of sun protection in addition to sunscreen – like seeking shade, umbrellas, hats, UPF clothing, sunglasses, etc.

    Thank you for this write up! I definitely love reading about things like SunAssure and can’t wait to see if you guys do something on Astaxanthin!

  2. Robert says:

    I take 20 mg of lycopene, 20 mg lutein, 4 mg astaxanthin. Helioplex is another one to consider. That along with a great zinc oxide sunscreen applied in the proper amount and re-applied when needed. UPF clothing, shades, wide brim hat, sun avoidance when possible. A diet rich in phytonutrients.

  3. Sally R says:

    Im always a bit skeptical about taking a supplement. . . I understand the science behind it but what I’m not 100% sold on is the companies making it. . . as most of them have little to no quality standards. I did find a review site http://sunscreenpillsreview.com/ but I’m not 100% sure it’s legit

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