Pills should not be used as a replacement for sunscreen or sun-protective clothing, according to a new position statement from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD.org). "The main message here is that the supplements do not provide reliable long-lasting photoprotection," says Zoe Diana Draelos, MD, a dermatologist in High Point, NC and a consulting professor of dermatology at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, NC.
There is no evidence that oral supplements of polypodium leucotomos (a tropical fern plant grown in Central and South America), the antioxidants vitamins C and E, or injectable afamelanotide alone provide enough protection from the sun's damaging rays. SCENESSE® (afamelanotide) is an experimental first-in-class drug that can be given as an implant or injection to treat certain skin disorders. There is some suggestion that this drug may make the skin less sensitive to the sun's rays.
"Taking a pill is easy, but protecting your skin is not an easy task, and it cannot be accomplished just by taking a pill," says Joshua Zeichner, MD, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in the Dermatology Department at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City. "It is important to instill safe and effective sun protective behavior early on in life to minimize the risk of skin cancers and premature skin aging."
That said, Zeichner is not writing supplements off altogether. "The idea of oral supplements is promising, but not a reliable way to protect your skin. I encourage my patients to practice sun protective behaviors in general. This of course includes sunscreen, but also peak hour sun avoidance, and protective clothing, hats, and sun glasses."
New York City dermatologist Michele S. Green, MD gets asked about these pills all the time and often feels like she is fighting an uphill battle. "There are doctors, infomercials, and books that would have you believe that vitamins will do everything from prevent sun damage to remove wrinkles to treat serious diseases. I resent all of this because it is like the old days of selling snake oil." She strongly supports the new AAD position statement.
Adding antioxidants to sunscreens is promising but challenging for the time being. Unless and until more research supports the use of supplements, injections or even antioxidant- infused sunscreens, your best bet is to follow the advice of dermatologists and use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher every day, and reapply every two hours.
And it's not just UVA and UVB rays that are problematic. According to Dr. Zein Obagi, Beverly Hills Dermatologist, "Research has shown that damage from high energy visible light (HEV) may be as harmful as that caused by UVA and UVB combined. Additionally, HEV light penetrates more deeply into the skin than UVA and UVB with the potential for greater long-term damage." ZO® Medical Oclipse-CTM Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen SPF 50 (http://www.zoskinhealth.com) is the first professional sunscreen that not only provides UVA and UVB protection with 8% titanium dioxide, but also shields the skin from high energy visible (HEV) light for complete sun protection. It was awarded the coveted The Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation (skincancer.org).
Don't skimp just because Labor Day is over, and your beach and pool days are numbered. While some research is promising, it's too early to recommend anything other than judicious use of sunscreen, avoiding the sun when it is strongest, and wearing sun protective gear. The Skin Cancer Foundation also recommends examining your skin head-to-toe every month and seeing your dermatologist for a skin exam every year.
-Additional reporting by Denise Mann
Wendy Lewis is President of Wendy Lewis & Co Ltd Global Aesthetics Consultancy, author of 11 books and Founder/Editor in Chief of http://www.beautyinthebag.com
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