Does drinkable sunscreen actually work?
CliffsNotes version: nope.
In the future, we'll travel by jet pack to man-made beaches within some Interstellar-esque space station. There, alongside our intelligent-operating-system "boyfriend," modeled after British philosopher Alan Watts, we may eat a surf-and-turf dinner pill and drink up our sunscreen. But alas, there are no such possibilities right now-despite all of the press releases we get every summer saying that drinkable sunscreen is a real thing. Here's the source of confusion:
Foods rich in antioxidants, like leafy greens, do seem to offer some sun protection; and as we reported earlier this year, consuming coffee, the nectar of the gods, also led to a reduced risk of skin cancer in a recent study. But as our logic-and experts-have assured us, such things alone are not enough to protect you.
"Some supplements have been shown in clinical trials to minimize the harmful effects UV light has on the skin," says Joshua Zeichner, an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "They work by helping to boost the skin's ability to fight off damage and by enhancing antioxidant activity. No supplement, however, should take the place of traditional sun-protection measures, like wearing sunscreen, and exercising sun-protective behaviors, such as seeking shade between peak hours of 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. and wearing sun-protective clothing, hats, and glasses."
I'm hesitant to even mention a particular product just in case someone is just skimming this and name-dropping implies an endorsement. But recently, we saw a press release for a drinkable screen that claimed to block 97 percent of UVA and UVB rays for up to three hours of sun exposure, comparing itself to a topical product with SPF 30. Troublingly, it also came in two versions: "No Tan Enhancing" and "Tan Enhancing." The mere mention of the word "tan" on a sun-protection product gets my back up like a cat's. Zeichner had a similar, if not quite as animalistic, reaction.
"Without rigorous, objective testing, I am hesitant to recommend any product. So long as you are using your sunscreen properly, as you would otherwise, I see no harm in drinking the water-with the exception of the harm it does to your pocketbook," he says. "However, I tell all my patients there is no safe way to tan in the sun, and I am cautious about a product that encourages people to tan because it is labeled 'Tan Enhancing.' The only safe tan I can recommend is one that comes from a bottle."
And not one you sip from.
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