Do SPF Tablets Really Work? We Asked A Dermatologist

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
Considering the multitude of ways the sun can ravage our skin (we’re talking burns, pigmentation and fine lines, to name but a few), most of us now can’t imagine facing the day without applying some sort of sun protection.
That's rain or shine because yep, UV can cause skin damage all year round.
From non-chalky sunscreen waters and brush-ons for ease of application to pore-friendly SPF mists that can be spritzed on over makeup, it's fair to say we're spoiled for choice when it comes to sunscreen innovations. But it looks like there's a new kid on the block. Enter: SPF tablets.
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For a lot of us, breakfast comes with a side helping of supplements, from multivitamins to a scoop of protein powder, but tablets that claim to protect your skin from the inside out are becoming increasingly popular for their supposed ability to increase the skin's tolerance to UV with a hefty dose of antioxidants, many plant-based. Sounds pretty great, right? But what's the catch?
Do SPF tablets actually work?
"SPF tablets have received a lot of press about being a convenient and quick way to promote tanning and to protect the skin from sun damage," explains consultant dermatologist at Skin 55 and author of The Skincare Bible, Dr. Anjali Mahto.
"Numerous brands have introduced these tablets as a form of UV protection, promising to maintain the skin’s ability to protect against sun-related effects. Unfortunately, though, we simply do not have the scientific evidence to promote edible sunscreen at present."
This is something the US Food & Drug Administration seconds, having recently reported that there is "no pill or capsule that can replace your sunscreen".
Which topical SPF is best?
Sure, popping a pill safe in the knowledge that your skin will be shielded from damage sounds a hell of a lot simpler than physically applying SPF, especially if you're on holiday somewhere hot. Sweat and sunscreen? Not cool. But because research backing the enormous hype around SPF tablets is significantly lacking, your best bet is to keep applying sunscreen the old school way.
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"For the aforementioned reason, I would strongly advise to use topical sunscreen until there is more robust evidence and clinical data about the efficacy of SPF tablets and pills," says Dr. Mahto.
"Choosing the correct sunscreen for your skin largely comes down to personal preference," Dr. Mahto continues, "but my personal favourites are Heliocare's 360 Gel Oil-Free SPF 50, £28 (easily absorbed and dry to the touch), Avène Cleanance Solaire SPF 30, £16 (non-comedogenic, making it a great choice for acne-prone skin), and Skinceuticals' Mineral Matte UV Defence SPF 30, £41," which provides mineral, broad-spectrum UV protection.
Remember...
Just because you're swapping the SPF tablets for a slathering of sunscreen doesn't mean your skin is completely protected from the harmful effects of the sun's UV rays. It may sound obvious, but...
Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
"Healthy sun-seeking behaviours should always be encouraged, like seeking shade in peak daylight hours and choosing protective clothing, like hats and sunglasses especially," says Dr. Mahto. "This includes wearing broad spectrum SPF of 30 and above. Most modern-day sunscreens are broad-spectrum which means they will provide protection against both UVA rays (which penetrate the skin) and UVB rays, which are traditionally associated with ageing of the skin. Sunscreens sold in the EU have a 'star rating' for UVA or a 'UVA logo' on the label." While no sunscreen offers 100% protection against the sun, it really does pay to look out for the broad spectrum label when shopping for one.
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Can darker skin get away with a lower SPF factor?
"The pigment, melanin, which gives our skin its colour is present in higher quantities in those with dark skin," says Dr. Mahto. "Research suggests that black skin has a natural sun protection factor (SPF) of 13.4 compared to white skin, which is about 3.4. The melanin absorbs UV light and has the ability to block free radical damage, so darker skin is therefore relatively more protected from sun damage. For those with darker skin, using an SPF 15-30 will be efficient and suitable."
Try Vichy's Idéal Soleil Hydrating SPF 30 Protective Solar Water, £19, or Glossier's Invisible Shield, £20, for brilliant protection minus that chalky, ashy cast.
But it's important to remember that despite this, even dark skin types are vulnerable to sun damage, according to Dr. Mahto. "Prolonged, cumulative sun exposure, however, will still lead to the signs we associate with ageing skin, so those with dark skin types should also be practising those preventative measures."
Got it.
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