What’s an ‘Oral Sunscreen’ and Is the Name Misleading?

What’s an ‘Oral Sunscreen’ and Is the Name Misleading? featured image
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The idea of popping a pill to take care of sun protection is definitely appealing. But how realistic is it? Grabbing headlines and viral videos about oral sunscreens have been making the rounds across all corners of the internet. And now that they’ve had a couple of years to prove themselves to dermatologists and consumers, it’s time to finally answer: Are oral sunscreens legit?

Well, the answer actually comes in a couple parts.

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What Is an Oral Sunscreen?

Products advertised as oral sunscreen supplements are just that: a supplement.

Sunscreens work by using either chemical or mineral formulations to block UV rays. Chemical sunscreens work by converting dangerous UV rays into heat, and then releasing that heat from the body. They take about a half hour to become active. That means you need to apply them before you actually go into the sun. Mineral sunscreens are a physical blocker over your skin, shielding it from UV rays. That means it doesn’t need time to start working. And since there’s no harsh chemicals, they’re safe for infants and pregnant women

Oral sunscreens are neither. “Oral sun supplements are powerful antioxidants that can enhance the efficacy of what sunscreen does,” Omaha, NE dermatologist Daniel Schlessinger, MD.

Instead of blocking UV radiation the way sunscreens do, these supplements utilize antioxidants to stop free radical damage. Sun-caused free radicals cause powerful, damaging chain reactions as they seek to stabilize themselves. Antioxidants quench that reaction quickly, minimizing the amount of damage a free radical can do.

“Polypodium leucotomos plus nicotinamide like found in Heliocare Advanced decreases inflammation and scavenges some of the free radical damage done by UV rays,” explains dermatologist Matthew Elias, MD. “But in no way are they sunscreen and are not blocking UV radiation.”

Let’s Call Them Sun Care Supplements

“A better term for these would be sunscreen supplements or compliments,” Dr. Elias says. “That would recognize that they aren’t sunscreens themselves, but additional care.”

So what are they supplementing?

“We measure sunscreen by how long it takes your skin to develop erythema, or that redness that indicates a burn,” dermatologist Tina Alster, MD explains. “And the studies show taking oral antioxidants affects that minimal eythema dose, reducing the potential for a burn.”

Oral antioxidants also have the clinical data to back them up.

“While many beauty supplements make under-studied claims that can’t really be verified or denied, there are actually a lot of clinical trials and data available on Heliocare,” explains dermatologist Daniel Schlessinger, MD. “It’s just important to remember that this is not a replacement for sunscreen.”

Should We Call Them “Oral Sunscreen?”

“A name like oral sunscreens can provide a false sense of security to consumers looking to stay safe from the sun,” Dr. Elias explains. “They give the impression that you can take a pill instead of applying sunscreen topically, when in fact these oral antioxidants are complimentary to your daily sunscreen use and not replacements for your sunscreen. They are in no way sunscreen and should never be labeled as such.”

As you might imagine, the launch of these products was met with a healthy amount of skepticism at first.

“I didn’t really pay much attention to them at first, as beauty supplements like collagen supplements do not have the data to back them up,” Dr. Alster explains. “But in the months they’ve been on the market, the results are plain to see. These do work, they are a good compliment to sunscreen and a good choice in an overall sun-care routine. And now there are even other forms including gummies that make this science more accessible to everyone.”

The Next Stage of Sun Care

Sunscreens are pretty good at what they do. We know that SPF 15 blocks about 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent (according to the American Academy of Dermatology). But even when our skin is completely covered by an SPF, there is still damage occurring.

“I have patients that do wear sunscreen, wear it correctly and reapply, but still get a little bit of sun damage,” Dr. Alster says. “An oral supplement can help boost your sunscreen performance so that you have less chance of developing that red skinned erythema.”

The horizon of sun care is certainly bright, as researchers seek to pinpoint the perfect ingredients to quench free radical damage and boost sunscreen efficiency. And as products like Heliocare debut with powerful antioxidants enlisted to do just that job, the landscape of sunscreen is about to get really interesting.

The introduction of oral sunscreen supplements is just one sign of things to come.

Get Started with Sun Care Supplements

1 / 3

HELIOCARE Advanced Antioxidant Supplement with Nicotinamide ($38)

Recommended by Dr. Schlessinger for its powerful antioxidant formula that protects against sun-related aging, this daily supplement is the perfect addition to your sunscreen routine.


Key ingredients

Fernblock PLE Technology (Polypodium leucotomos)


60 capsules

2 / 3

Dr. Barbara Sturm Sun Skin Supplement ($75)

A potent combination of antioxidants and skin-supporting vitamins helps get your skin ready for UV exposure. This daily supplement helps with oxidative stress on skin plus provides a natural glow through the inclusion of the plant carotenoids beta-carotene, astaxanthin and lycopene.

oral sunscreen supplement

Key ingredients

vitamins, polyphenols


60 capsules

3 / 3

ISDIN SUNISDIN Softgel Capsules ($55)

Antioxidant-powered oral supplement SUNISDIN doesn’t just help protect against free radical damage, but also works to make your skin look brighter and more luminous. Vitamins, carotenes and antioxidants work together to prevent photo damage for your best skin yet.


Key ingredients

vitamin D, C, and E, green tea leaf extract, grape seed extract


30 capsules

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