It has been a while since the FDA has approved new sunscreen products, so while we are waiting it might be worth considering evidence that a glass of red wine may actually help. This was revealed a few years ago in a very well-designed study from Germany, in which subjects downed a standard amount of wine, and then had areas of skin subjected to standardized doses of ultraviolet (UV) light.[i] This is the same method used to determine SPF, which is based on how much exposure is required for redness to appear. With a red wine rich in polyphenols, the UV dosage required to produce redness increased significantly compared to pre-consumption baseline. Interestingly, topical application of red wine did not have the same effect.
A glass of wine before heading to the beach may not be your cup of tea, so there are other options. An extract of a type of fern (Polypodium leucotomos) is available as a sunscreen pill. This is also supported by a good clinical study[ii] in which two groups of subjects had their baseline UV sensitivity measured and were then randomized into two groups. One group received the pill and another placebo, twice daily for 2 months. The subjects receiving the pill with the extract were more likely to have decreased sensitivity (more UV required to produce reddening of the skin.)
The future of sunscreen technology may come from understanding why many types of animals don’t get sunburns despite being under the sun much of the time. A recent study from Oregon State University may have found a clue in a compound called gadusol, produced naturally by birds, amphibians, and reptiles.[iii] In a sense, they are making their own sunscreen. Gadusol could potentially be used either as a topical or ingested UV protector.
Better products for UV protection are needed, and these types of “out of the bottle” approaches may point to a solution. In 2011 the FDA issued new rules for sunscreen products but they have not approved any new ingredients. These more stringent labeling and testing requirements apply to all sunscreen products. Many common phrases used on sunscreen products, such as “sunblock,” “waterproof,” “prevents skin cancer,” etc. are no longer permitted. In addition, specific testing must be completed for each sunscreen product before other claims about the product’s UV protection can be made. The fact that many of the products currently available fall short of these requirements underscores the need. In the meantime, I’m looking for the SPF of this cabernet …
[i] Moehrle M1, Dietrich H, Patz CD, Häfner HM.Sun protection by red wine? J Dtsch Dermatol Ges. 2009 Jan;7(1):29-32, 29-33.
[ii] Nestor MS, Berman B, Swenson N. Safety and Efficacy of Oral Polypodium leucotomos Extract in Healthy Adult Subjects. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2015 Feb;8(2):19-23.
[iii] Osborn AR, Almabruk KH, Holzwarth G, Asamizu S, LaDu J, Kean KM, Karplus PA, Tanguay RL, Bakalinsky AT, Mahmud T. De novo synthesis of a sunscreen compound in vertebrates. Elife. 2015 May 12;4.