Slicking yourself down with a gooey lotion when you’re already hot and sweaty is not appealing. So sunscreen-in-a-pill sounds pretty good—just swallow, and you’re good to go.

Such is the claim of several companies marketing pills they say offer protection against harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays, such as sunburn, skin aging and skin cancer. However, the claims are not proven by research and, in fact, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently sent warning letters to four companies that make such “sunscreen pills”—Glisodin (maker of Advanced Skin Brightening Formula), Napa Valley Bioscience (Sunsafe Rx), Pharmacy Direct (Solaricare) and Sunergize (Sunergetic). The warning letters stated that the products don’t meet the standards set by the FDA for safety and effectiveness and that relying on the pills instead of using sunscreens with an SPF—proven to be protective against sunburn and skin cancer—puts people at risk.

Americans have a 20% risk for skin cancer during their lifetime. Since exposure to UV radiation is cumulative, using effective sunscreen is an important step in reducing that risk.

To actually protect yourself, says the FDA…

  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (applied to your skin!) that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Choose an SPF of at least 15—higher if you have fair skin.
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside, remembering to use it on all exposed skin including ears, nose, back of neck, hands, lips, tops of feet and any skin exposed on your head and along your hairline. Editor’s note: Barrier (mineral-based) sunscreens are effective as soon as applied and do not need to be applied 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours while out in the sun…more often when sweating or swimming.
  • Seek shade or go indoors when the sun’s rays are the strongest, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • For even more protection, wear a hat, sunglasses, and pants and long-sleeved shirts when possible.

Important: SPF tells how well a product protects against sunburn—the higher the number the more the protection. But a higher SPF doesn’t mean that protection lasts longer. Sunscreens with high SPFs still need to be reapplied regularly.

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