One thing I know about myself is that I LOVE the sun. Absolutely love it. Nothing lifts my mood more than soaking up some warm summer sun on a long hike or an afternoon trip to the beach. I’ve never gone out of my way to tan, and I always wear SPF, but I still sometimes worry about the possibility of damaging my skin or developing skin cancer by spending so much time outdoors. So imagine my surprise when I found out that like many other concerns, there’s a pill for that. That’s right: sun protection supplements are a thing (!!!). But are they too good to be true? I chatted with FACILE dermatology + boutique Co-Founder Nancy Samolitis, MD, FAAD to get the lowdown on whether or sun protection supplements really work.
A few supplements have been found to reduce cellular damage following UV exposure. They provide some protection to the skin all over when taken orally. They work in a different way than topical sunscreen, which blocks or absorbs UV light to protect the skin. Ideally, you should use topical SPF and oral supplements together for optimal skin protection.
They contain two ingredients, polypodium leucotomos and astaxanthin, that are potent antioxidants that reduce the DNA-damaging reactive oxygen species produced in skin cells after exposure to UV light. Astaxanthin and polypodium leucotomos are derived from naturally occurring plant and animal sources. These ingredients, along with the vitamin b-3 derivative niacinamide (sometimes called nicotinamide) also have anti-inflammatory properties that protect the skin from cellular damage. Niacinamide taken at a dose of 500mg twice a day was found to significantly reduce the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancers by 23% and pre-cancerous skin lesions by 11% in high-risk patients (like those with a history of such cancers) in Australia. These are best used together to combat skin damage from UV light via their different mechanisms.
The effect of these supplements on cosmetic signs of sun damage, like wrinkles and brown spots has not been studied, but they are likely to be effective due to the known protection against DNA damage in the skin cells. Other antioxidants used topically, like vitamin C and ferulic acid, have similar effects.