Sunscreen pills are our great hope for getting rid of cream. The problem: they are very green

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Every year, 25,000 tons of sunscreen reach the oceans and, frankly, it is a problem of a colossal size. Because, on the one hand, as doctors and researchers repeatedly insist, we need to use more sun cream (most Spaniards are dangerously underprotected against solar radiation); and, on the other hand, the accumulation in marine and freshwater ecosystems of some of the substances they contain (such as oxybenzone or octylmethoxycinnamate) is a environmental horror. And health, of course: ultraviolet filters are already found in the food chain.


The promise of sunscreen pills. For this reason, the arrival of sun protection tablets was, for many, excellent news: the way to solve the “squaring the circle” of increasing sun protection without destroying the environment. The reality, however, is that although the tablets can be useful in some circumstances, solving the problem (like “square a circle”) is going to be impossible.

What are sun protection tablets?. The short answer is that it is a product that is consumed orally and that helps limit the negative effects of the sun on our skin. However, to understand what happens with sunscreen pills, it is necessary to understand how sunscreens work. In general terms, we can distinguish two main types of creams: those with a physical barrier and those with a chemical barrier.

The physical filters they are a kind of “screens” that reflect sunlight. They are those dense creams that are not absorbed and leave the skin as white as horchata: they use compounds of solid, insoluble particles (such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxides) and act by creating a shield that prevents the sun’s rays from penetrating the skin. skin. Their main benefit is that they are not absorbed (and, therefore, they are especially suitable for children between six months and three years, and people with dermatological problems). However, many people ‘run away’ from them because their aesthetics and practicality leave much to be desired.

The chemical filtersinstead, they use a series of products that, instead of reflecting sunlight, absorb it. They are creams that are easier to apply and with better aesthetic results; but they take longer to act, can cause allergies, and tend to have a lower spectrum of protection. For this reason, in recent years, the usual thing is to find mixed filters that combine the two types in a single formulation: gaining in protection without losing (too much) on an aesthetic level. However, with this typology we have enough to understand not only what sunscreen pills are, but also their limitations.

A logic with sense…. In this sense, we could include sun protection capsules among chemical filters. The logic behind these products is similar to that behind the differences between a medicine for topical use and one for oral administration. In the same way that, when faced with a concussion, we can use an anti-inflammatory ointment or a pill: chemical sun protection could be applied in other ways.

…but a very problematic implementation. The big problem that we find is that solar pills do not use the same active ingredient as creams, but in a different way. The vast majority of them marketed in Europe do not even try. Actually, they’renutricosmetics‘; that is, food supplements (made from things like beta carotene, vitamins and natural extracts) that try to help absorb sunlight and reduce oxidative damage to cells. It is, in essence, a vitamin supplement.

And as such we must understand and use them: as an extra that does not replace creams at all and that they also do not have much scientific evidence behind. But the way pills are marketed often leads to misunderstandings. To such an extent that in 2018 the US FDA was forced to issue a statement in which they warned that these types of pills are useless against the potential damage of the sun and cannot be compared with sun creams for regular use.

A dermoprotective dead end?. The truth is yes. The initial paradox (that we need more sun protection and that, at the same time, pollution levels are very high) does not have an easy solution. As sun exposure increases in many developed countries and tan gains social prestigedermatological problems increase (and the toilets, they go behind). We just have to keep working to find solutions that allow us to find a middle path and, in the meantime, protect ourselves as best we can.

Image | Lesulie Collins

Every year, 25,000 tons of sunscreen reach the oceans and, frankly, it is a problem of a colossal size. Because,…

Every year, 25,000 tons of sunscreen reach the oceans and, frankly, it is a problem of a colossal size. Because,…

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