One of the downsides to a sunny beach vacation -- albeit, probably the only downside -- is the constant need to slather on sticky sunscreen throughout the day to protect your skin. It's not that putting on sunblock is difficult or anything -- unless you're having to ask the speedo-clad dude on the sunlounger next to you to do your back, that is -- but it's annoying nonetheless.
But slathering on the SPF 45 could become a thing of the past with a new discovery from the UK that could see sunscreen becoming available in pill form in as little as five years. Scientists from The King's College in London are studying how coral -- the kind that makes up Australia's Great Barrier Reef -- protects itself from the sun's rays in the hopes of developing a pill that can do the same for humans.
"What we have found is that the algae living within the coral makes a compound that we think is transported to the coral, which then modifies it into a sunscreen for the benefit of both the coral and the algae," head research Dr Paul Long said in a press release. "Not only does this protect them both from UV damage, but we have seen that fish that feed on the coral also benefit from this sunscreen protection, so it is clearly passed up the food chain." They're hoping to copy the genetic code of this compound and create a bacteria that can be ingested by humans, all without damaging the coral which is listed as an endangered species. They hope to begin testing of the product within five years.
So what does this mean for humans? If all goes well, this yet-unnamed sunscreen pill will provide us with full sun protection for both our skin and eyes that could last for weeks at a time, meaning there will be no more acceptable excuses for coming home from the beach with a careless sunburn. But if you're the type of person who loves getting a light, golden-brown glow on vacation, you're out of luck -- the sunscreen pill is an all-or-nothing kind of deal, meaning you won't tan at all if you're on it. Still, the cancer-prevention benefits are worth it. It's also likely that the pill may be only available by prescription to people at a high risk for sun damage, as the UV blockers in it could potentially block the vitamin D you get from the sun as well. Vitamin D is crucial for your bones, immune system and brain and not getting enough can be quite damaging to your health.
In the meantime, there's another product that might help you prevent sun damage. Heliocare is a tropical supplement that has been used for generations to treat skin conditions and help prevent harmful sunburns. However, it's meant to compliment sunscreen, not replace it. "It gets into your blood stream and works from the inside out, as opposed to sunscreen which works from the outside in, so this pill mops up the damage that gets past the sunscreen you might be wearing," Los Angeles dermatologist Dr. Jessica Wu told ABC News. "It also repairs damage that is done to your skin that leads to skin cancer." In other words? It won't help you prevent a sunburn so make sure you use sunscreen as well.
Take a look at people who didn't protect their skin from the sun: