Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

At a Glance: Do sunscreen pills really work?

        Health | Sun Care

Shade and floppy hats may keep you from getting a sunburn, but wouldn't it be nice if a pill could do the same?
Shade and floppy hats may keep you from getting a sunburn, but wouldn't it be nice if a pill could do the same?
ŠiStockphoto.com/Thinkstock

There's no lack of warnings available to sunbathers nowadays. Excessive exposure to sunlight is unhealthy, they're told. It causes premature aging of the skin, dermatologists say. It has the potential to cause cancer, physicians stress. But no one wants to stay inside 24/7. So, instead, they turn to tubes of sunscreen lotion, bottles of protective oil and spray-on sunblocks.

The problem is, sunscreen of any type has its limitations. Applying it can be tedious and if you miss a spot, look out -- you may come home from the beach with an unintentionally creative design burned into your back, shoulders or forehead. In addition, reapplication may be necessary after a day of playing in the outdoors. Many sunscreens wash off with sweat and, even if the label says they're waterproof, they can only hold up under so much swimming and drying off before they break down. Sunscreen pills would seem to be the perfect option.

Since sunscreen pills work from the inside out, there's no concern about rubbing off the protection or having it drip from your forehead onto the ground during intense exercise. The only concern is whether or not they're effective. And you have to further ask yourself, "effective at doing what, exactly?"

Sunscreen pills currently available aren't intended to take the place of the traditional, externally applied liquids, sprays and creams. Quite simply, they're not yet powerful enough to be used as a standalone solution to the problem of overexposure to harmful rays. If you use sunscreen pills in conjunction with the tried-and-true remedies, you may notice some additional relief.

Think of sunscreen pills as special multi-vitamins. These vitamin packs also contain antioxidants that assist your body with growth and healing. If ultraviolet light has damaged your body's cells, leading to an unhealthy number of free radicals, then sunscreen pills can neutralize the problem. If you missed a spot while slathering on your sunscreen, these pills can help minimize the glaring difference between the burn patch of skin with the rest of your epidermis.

Further research and scientific advancements may eventually make sunscreen pills more powerful. For the time being, however, the oral vitamin and antioxidant concoction is, at best, a helpful addition to your ray-fighting arsenal. Just as sunscreen doesn't offer the skin protection of a hat and shirt, sunscreen pills don't do a better job of blocking harmful rays than an old-fashioned lotion.


More to Explore