However, given that these products have yet to be approved by the FDA (or even Dr. Oz), there's no real way of gauging the pills' effectiveness. So, in the name of science, I closed my eyes, housed some pills, and took a potentially body-altering trip to determine whether these capsules are the next wave in sun protection or merely a ploy to dupe pale rubes who burn through money... like me.
To conduct my semi-scientific experiment, I bought two of the most popular brands of edible UV protection on Amazon: Heliocare, which brands itself as a dietary supplement that "promotes younger looking skin" and "helps maintain the skin's ability to protect against sun-related effects and aging," and Sunsafe Rx, which promises to "defend against both UVA and UVB rays" as long as you take it up to one hour before sun exposure.
I immediately note that the discreet and seemingly incredibly important disclaimer Heliocare provides on its Amazon listing -- "Heliocare is not a sunscreen and should be used in addition to topical sun protection" -- doesn't appear on the physical packaging. Meanwhile, Sunsafe Rx, whose suffix is inherently misleading, includes a pamphlet within its packaging that repeatedly swears that the product is as scientifically proven as it is revolutionary, claims that are definitely, definitely not untrue. The bottle also boasted "natural defense from within," which sounded like a rejected tagline from a Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon sequel. But I still popped the pills.
I felt no nausea or immediate physiological effects -- so I had that going for me. And as I spent my day walking around Downtown Dallas in the unforgiving Texan sun, I actually felt a little optimistic. It didn't feel like I was getting roasted. Perhaps the pills' magick was legit -- or at the very least, maybe the placebo effect was powerful enough to cover my epidermis with a forcefield of good intentions.
I know about the power of the placebo effect. When I was 16, my older brother gave me a marijuana brownie and, after eating it, I was so sure I was profoundly baked that I ended up listening to The Dark Side of the Moon and deciding that my mind had entered a new, enlightened plane of existence. In reality, he'd merely given me a Little Debbie Cosmic Brownie -- a dick move, but one that taught me that the mind can certainly influence the body when it comes to medicating.
A few hours later, while cooling off in a friend's pool, I felt the slow, oncoming dread of ugly truth: My skin was going to be bright pink before sundown (which would be a fantastic name for a Jimmy Buffett song, by the way). By the time I was drinking sassafras tea at dinner, my shoulders and face were as red as an NRA convention in rural Alabama hosted by Ted Nugent. By midnight, I had a full-scale burn, the likes of which I haven't experienced since Daytona Beach, circa 2010, when I fell asleep after cracking open a few too many cold ones wearing nothing but a lime-green Speedo that said "Spring Break 4ever."
Basically, I fought the sun, and the sun won.
While applying calamine lotion to my scorched skin, and a few glasses of whiskey to my scorched ego, I dove into the waves of positive online reviews to see if I had messed up my dosage, or if I'd simply been hoodwinked.
The positive reviews largely indicated that the people who swear this stuff isn't snake oil have witnessed the package-assured effects of the products first-hand -- but gradually. Fewer sunspots... over time. Fewer rashes... over time. So maybe the pills are effective in the long run, as opposed to the short-burst of protection I'd been seeking. Maybe the supplements work in the way melatonin does: not as a quick-fix answer to sleep problems, but a long-term aid used to help regulate circadian rhythms.
But one thing was as clear as the outline of the handprint on my rosé-colored back: This is certainly, under no circumstance, no substitute for SPF.
"Hopefully one day soon, we’ll be able to eat our sunscreen."
I hesitate to go full-blown cynic, but I'm wary of recommending edible sunscreen to anyone. At the very most, I could find only anecdotal evidence that it does anything at all besides burning a hole in your pocket or that hard-to-reach spot between your shoulder blades.
While it's tempting to buy into something as space-age-sounding as edible sunscreen, we're not quite there yet. Our notoriously impatient culture makes us all want the future to happen right now, but that's not how it works. Hopefully one day soon, we'll be able to eat our sunscreen. But for this summer, at least, when you embrace your inner Santana ft. Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 and think to yourself, "Man, it's a hot one!," opt for good ol’ fashioned lotion, instead.
1/10, would not try again.