Because these manufacturers call their products nutritional supplements instead of drugs, they are able to sell the products at major pharmacies without FDA regulation and oversight, according to Dr. Kenneth Linden, a professor of dermatology at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine and the co-director of its Melanoma Center. Because there has not been much research on whether these products actually work, these manufacturers are engaging in a shady practice, he said.
“Throughout the history of humankind, people have gravitated towards unproven remedies,” Leffell said. “In different generations, things might be called snake oil; in other generations, they’d be called fraudulent. People’s appetite to believe in something that’s too good to be true is limitless.”
While products such as Sunsafe Rx use many ingredients that makers claim are photoprotective, the best-researched (and most controversial) is the extract of the leaf of Polypodium leuctomos, a fern native to Central and South America.
Polypodium extract’s benefits. Fact or fiction?
Linden said that neither he nor any dermatologist he knows would recommend that a patient use a supplement containing Polypodium extract in place of sunscreen.
“I think that it’s probably currently the most likely candidate for something that is going to be useful, but I don’t think it’s quite there yet as far as ready for primetime,” he said. In particular, Linden added, he would like to see more detailed studies on the extract’s ability to protect from DNA damage, not just redness.
An injectable tan
Another manufacturer turned to a photoprotective substance closer to home, a hormone our bodies release in response to UV radiation in order to stimulate melanin production. In other words: a tan.
The injection is offered in Europe only for patients with this rare genetic disease, but a clinical study is underway in Singapore on Scenesse’s effect on patients with vitiligo, a common skin condition.
Some dermatologists expressed concerns about Scenesse’s potential side effects.
“I really do worry about unpredictable consequences of what else it’s doing in the body,” Linden said.
Leffell said that anything that turns on the body’s pigmentation pathway makes him nervous, since the cells that produce melanin are also the ones that become cancerous in melanoma, a rare but dangerous form of skin cancer.
That concern is simplistic, Clinuvel CEO Dr. Philippe Wolgen said, since darker pigmentation can be a symptom of melanoma and not its underlying cause.
Wolgen said the company hopes to make a topical product for wider consumption; in his opinion, a pill or a drink would be unnecessary and dangerous due to the risk of an overdose. Additionally, it will be another six to 12 months before the FDA finishes reviewing Scenesse for limited use.
In the meantime, though, Leffell recommends treating sun protective supplements with the same skepticism as hair-growth formula or male enhancement pills.
“Let’s put it this way: If any of those things worked, they wouldn’t have to spend as much on advertisement.”
News credit : Cnn