The supplement industry is thriving and has quickly become one of the fastest growing industries. The Nutritional Business Journal reported that in 2012, the industry generated $32 billion in revenue. By 2021, it’s expected to generate $60 billion. And as more people discover the health boosting benefits of supplementing with vitamins, minerals and proteins, that number is only expected to grow.
But amidst this wellness boom is a dangerous trend that some wellness companies are depicting as healthy and good. These companies are promoting products that cost a lot but do little of what they promise, resulting, in fact, in personal harm. The trend? Sunscreen supplements.
Sunscreen supplements have been touted as one of the next big things in wellness. The problem is, they don’t do a thing to protect your skin against sun damage from dangerous UV rays. And that’s why they’re problematic. With people becoming increasingly interested in alternative health and wellness and turning to the supplement industry, misleading information is hitting more than their wallets. In many cases, it’s taking their lives.
Sunscreen supplements called out by the FDA
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t typically regulate the supplement industry, at least not in the way it regulates pharmaceuticals. That means that claims from supplement companies may not always be proven or have science behind them. But even though the FDA doesn’t keep a close eye on the industry, it steps in when it observes a public health hazard. And just a few weeks ago, the FDA stated that nutritional supplements can’t protect you or your skin against the effects of the sun—or the skin cancer in the making.
It seems melanoma and other skin cancers didn’t get the memo from companies like Sunsafe Rx or Sunergetic that these supplements are supposed to ward them off.
The problem with UV radation
UV radiation is a growing concern around the world. NASA revealed that over the last 30 years, the sun’s rays have been getting stronger because of the decreasing ozone layer. This has made the sun’s rays, which so many of us love to bask in, more dangerous than ever (and responsible for 90% of skin cancers). In the U.S. alone, nearly 178,560 cases of one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer (melanoma) will be diagnosed—and 9,320 people will die of it.
But the problem doesn’t end there. Indoor tanning, an activity that 35% of American adults and 59% of college students participate in, could be even more dangerous. Why? When tanning indoors, people never think about sunscreen. In fact, both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization identified this activity as directly correlating to cancer. Some research shows that indoor tanning alone can cause 400,000 U.S. skin cancer cases every year.
These statistics are unsettling in and of themselves. But perhaps the hardest part of it all is that many of these cases could have been prevented with regular and intentional sunscreen use.
Even one sunburn should concern you because sun damage has a cumulative effect on a person’s skin and cells. A person who has had more than five sunburns in their life (and realistically, that’s likely a majority of us) will have a 50% greater chance of developing melanoma. The rate of melanoma cases is increasing. Over the last 10 years, the number of new diagnoses has risen by 53%. Men are more likely than women to develop skin cancer, because they often spend more time outdoors. One study showed that men who received even one bad sunburn on their back had a more than 50% likelihood of developing melanoma than their non-sunburned counterparts.
The role of nutritional supplements
Supplements like Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Vitamin E certainly have a role in improving your skin’s appearance and minimizing the results of skin damage. But neither they nor the so-called sunscreen supplements are an alternative for good old-fashioned sun protection.
How to protect yourself
Just because skin cancer happens to be one of the most common cancers in the nation doesn’t mean that it should be taken lightly. Skin cancer can, in many cases, be deadly.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you apply a broad-spectrum SPF of 30 or higher, every two hours for best protection.
While we believe in the ability of supplements to boost health and improve quality of life, we certainly don’t recommend you forego sunscreen. So protect yourself when going outdoors.
This summer, as the sun starts to linger in the sky and the beaches and hiking trails call your name, slather on your sunscreen, don some protective clothing and enjoy the great outdoors.