Sunscreen is far from the most popular or exciting product on shelves. It's misunderstood, underused, even despised. Gummies, on the other hand, are highly regarded across all ages. Kids love them as vitamins! Bachelor alum hawk them on Instagram! Ambien-fearing adults chew melatonin versions! So here's an idea: What would happen if you packed sun protection in gummy form?
One company — Sundots — has attempted to do just that, and claims its chewable gummy (which is still in pre-production on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform, but available in July) can help protect against sunburn and other UV-related damage, thanks to the fern extract polypodium leucotomos. Sundots suggests taking one gummy in the morning, unless it's an especially sunny day, in which case you can take a second mid-day, in addition to wearing sunscreen and physical protection.
The research that is out there on the ingredient, however, may not be the most reliable. Across the five published clinical studies on polypodium's protective abilities over the last 30 years that are cited on Sundot's FAQ page, only 50 people in total were used as subjects in the trials. And Sundots' product wasn't the one being tested, which dermatologist Adam Friedman, MD, says is problematic.
"This sounds like a bullshit attempt to benefit from the supportive data in Heliocare, a plant-derived oral supplement to be used with sunscreen, not in its place," says Dr. Friedman, who is not affiliated with either brand. "You can't take [another company's] data and apply it to a different polypodium product. It's extremely misleading."
Sundots co-founder Chris Tolles claims its intention was never for customers to use the product without additional sun protection.* "The derms you've spoken with are right to worry about anyone who suggests Sundots are good enough on their own — they're not," Tolles explains. "Nor is sunscreen, nor is UPF-rated clothing. The best sun protection always comes from a combination of the three, since they're each excellent at some things, and not at others."
Dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, adds that while the ingredient in question has shown promise, he still has his doubts about this particular delivery system. "Polypodium leucomotos extract has been shown to give some protection against UVA rays in the setting of sun allergies, but the effectiveness of the product depends on the formulation. One brand containing the ingredient may be very different than another brand. I would want to see proven efficacy in clinical trials."
This isn't the first time ingestible sun protection has made headlines, either. Last year, the Colorado-based founder of Osmosis Skincare faced a lawsuit after claiming its Harmonized H2O UV Neutralizer made "scalar waves" that vibrate above the skin, effectively blocking carcinogenic UV radiation. The brand reached a settlement of $70,000 in the fraud case.
Neither the CDC nor ADA list gummies as an effective form of sun protection, and given that Sundots' claims have yet to be approved by the FDA, you should only try them in addition to a fully preventative routine. "You still need to apply sunscreen topically," Dr. Friedman says. It may not be the most fun part of your day, but it could save your life.
* Editors' Note: A previous version of this story implied that Sundots gummies were being marketed as a substitute for sunscreen. They are, according to the brand, meant to be used in addition to sunscreen. The story has been updated to reflect the change.