Sunscreen Pills and Capsules Don't Protect Against Skin Cancer, FDA Warns

Health officials have warned against the use of pills and capsules that falsely claim to protect users from the sun's rays and could therefore raise the risk of skin cancer.

In a statement reiterating that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., the FDA said it had sent warning letters to companies that illegally market such so-called dietary supplements. One person in the U.S. dies of skin cancer every hour, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

"These companies—marketing products called Advanced Skin Brightening Formula, Sunsafe Rx, Solaricare and Sunergetic—are putting people's health at risk by giving consumers a false sense of security that a dietary supplement could prevent sunburn, reduce early skin aging caused by the sun, or protect from the risks of skin cancer," the statement said.

The FDA has reminded the public that only sunscreen can protect from harmful UV rays. Health officials have warned that pills and capsules that falsely claim to protect users from the sun’s rays could increase the risk of skin cancer.  Getty Images

The FDA has ordered the companies to change the claims used to advertise their products, including reviewing their product websites and labeling, or risk continuing to break federal law.

While the FDA is not required to review dietary supplements before they are sold in the U.S., they can intervene to pull them from sale if they are found to be unsafe or misleading.

"Consumers should be watchful for unscrupulous companies making unproven claims. When the FDA sees companies taking advantage of people's desire to protect themselves from the harmful effects of the sun—we'll step in," the statement continued.

The sun's rays are a source of UV radiation which is harmful to the skin. While UVC rays are the most harmful, they are blocked by the Earth's atmosphere. UVA and UVB rays, however, are penetrate this filter and are absorbed by exposed skin. They are believed to be the most likely cause of skin cancers. "There's no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen," the FDA stressed.

Sunscreens with sun protection (SPF) values come in lotions, cream sticks and sprays, are available over-the counter. They need to be externally applied onto the skin to protect it from UV rays.

One in five Americans could develop skin cancer in their lifetime, according to the FDA. Melanoma—the deadliest type—can be caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation present in the sun's rays and indoor tanning beds.

To reduce the chance of developing skin cancer, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, as well as staying in the shade as much as possible, wearing clothing that covers arms and legs and avoiding indoor tanning.

The most common sign of skin cancer is a change in the skin, such as a new growth, a sore that won't heal, or changes in a mole.

The manufacturers of Sunsafe Rx told Newsweek: "The Sun is dangerous, and UV rays damage your skin. We don't market Sunsafe Rx as a sunscreen, and we certainly don't tell consumers that they don't need any other protection from the Sun or that they don't also need to use a topical sunscreen. Everyone should exercise caution when exposed to the Sun."

The manufacturers of Advanced Skin Brightening Formula and Sunergetic did not respond to a request for comment. It was not possible to reach the makers of Solicare.

Updated | This article was updated with comment from Sunsafe Rx.