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Can Taking A Pill Replace Sunscreen?

CHICAGO (CBS) -- You may have come across ads for sunscreen pills and wondered if they work.

CBS 2's Marissa Bailey takes a closer look at some sunscreen pills and what doctors say about them.

Maricela Lugo burns easily. That's why she takes sunscreen seriously for herself and her kids, but she admits it's a hassle.

Lugo said, "If I can avoid the lotion because it is messy, sticky, some of its smelly."

So the idea of a simple pill for sun protection is definitely appealing.

Lugo admitted, "I would probably consider trying it out."

One supplement available is Heliocare, made with a fern extract called polypodium leucotomos.

Doctor Brian Horvath says studies show the extract has anti-inflammatory effects.

Dr. Horvath said, "On skin biopsies, they had less DNA damage, and that suggests it may help not just sunburns but also preventing skin cancer, also things like wrinkles, photo damage."

Another product with fern extract is Sun Assure. Its website claims it has an SPF of 30. Another one, Murad's Pomphenol contains pomegranate extract.

"The real thing I would caution them on is this is not a substitute for sunscreen," said Dr. Kenneth Bielinski.

Both Heliocare and Murad say their pills can help the body fight the damaging effects of the sun and recommend they be used in combination with a topical sunscreen.

Sun Assure's website calls it an easy-to-take sunscreen pill that protects against skin damage and can be used with sunscreen for maximum protection.

Dr. Horvath cautioned, "I would never rely on the pill alone to protect you from sunburn or skin cancer."

Doctor Amy Derick agrees but says you can pair a pill with a sunscreen.

Dr. Derick said, "Used as a supplement it is an effective way of possibly decreasing damage that sneaks through sunscreen."

In fact, Dr. Bielinski tried a sunscreen pill without topical protection a few years ago.

Dr. Bielinski said, "I tried it, went out in the sun, took appropriately ahead of time like you were supposed to and I felt I got just as burnt as I would have if I did not take it."

Remember, sunscreen lotions have had a lot of FDA scrutiny, but because the pills are supplements, the manufacturer is responsible for safety, not the FDA.

Still, beachgoers were intrigued.

Alexandra Isais said, "I would never expect sunscreen to come in a's cool."

The pills don't come cheap. They cost us between $0.50 and $1 a piece. Also, the Better Business Bureau is currently giving the sun assure maker an "F" rating because of complaints regarding sales, billing and product issues. The company did not respond to our calls.

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