Sunscreen in a Pill?

For fair-skinned persons like myself, it's sort of the Holy Grail of sun protection: the concept of a sunscreen that you ingest as a pill rather than slather all over your body. Interestingly enough, one of my parents' health newsletters is mentioning a product called Heliocare which promises to do exactly that. It's a pill. Take it before you go out into the sun, and you get extra protection from the sun.

Now, my parents have a lot of newsletters lying around, many of which date back to the 1960's, so I first had to check to see if what I was reading was current. It was. Even more intriguing, a 2004 study apparently showed that Heliocare significantly reduced both sunburn and associated skin damage due to sun exposure. Heliocare is even endorsed by dermatologists.

So...why the heck haven't I ever heard of the damn thing?

I did a little poking around, but unfortunately the studies were a little vague as to what, exactly, a 'significant' reduction in sun damage actually means. I couldn't find any objective data, such as, for example, persons taking Heliocare can stay in the sun x% longer than the control group. Also noteworthy: the studies seemed to involve extremely small sample sizes. In one case, only nine people participated.

Still, the available evidence suggests that Heliocare does indeed work (the product is not intended as a replacement to sunscreen—rather it is to be used in conjunction with sunblock). Given that, why hasn't it taken the sun protection market by storm?

It's a mystery. But I'm curious enough to put in an order for the product. I burn really easily, but I also hate putting on sunscreen, so I'd say I'm a good candidate for a little experimentation. I'll give it a try over the winter season, and if I notice any effects, I'll write about it.

Andy Lewicky is the author and creator of SierraDescents

Xavier "Polypodium" McGillicutty September 27, 2008 at 4:12 am

Seems a bit dicey to me... ingestable sunscreen? I'm not sure I'd be putting anything in my mouth that wasn't directly related to giving my body the nutrients (and chocolate chip cookies) it needs.

FWIW, Heliocare is covered by this patent. Which, btw, mentions something about it inducing hypokinesia in rats at moderate-high levels. The patent is very technical, and frankly I don't have time to try and decypher it completely, but if you're looking for more data you might check out some of the papers that it references.

Andy September 27, 2008 at 6:31 am

X-Man! Where've you been? We've missed you!