Tag Archives: Quackery

Sunscreen in a Pill? Really?

Sigh. I know there is a lot of this kind of woo out there and, yes the rule is “Buyer beware”, but, seriously you have to wonder how these bastards can sleep at night peddling this kind of crap.

The claim is that:

During a decade of clinical trials, FernBlock® has shown remarkable effectiveness in shielding skin against dangerous ultraviolet exposure [source]

And it’s true;  if you take this product and follow their guidelines:

Use with high SPF sunscreen (SPF 30+)

you won’t get sunburnt. It’s roughly $1.00 per hit and you should take two or more per day…. but don’t forget the sunscreen.

Science Based Medicine‘s examination of the claims indicates that, even with the most generous assessment, this stuff could only add SPF 3 to your protection – in other words bugger all. So for your $29.95 you get to swallow some horse pills and risk a stomach upset (one of the common side effects). Oh, and you will still get sunburnt unless you apply 30+ sunscreen.

I’m struggling to picture the thought process that leads to a sale:

“Hmmm this looks good…. ‘natural extract derived from the fern plant‘, ‘used by Ayurvedic practitioners in its native India for thousands of years’, lots of sciencey words on the label. This has to be better than the evil chemicals some pharmaceutical company is trying to sell me!”.

If I hear one more person tell me “it’s ok because it’s natural” I’m going to scream. It’s a completely meaningless label.  Some of our worst social problems arise from the use of “natural products derived from plants” – alcohol, tobacco, opiates.

I met someone over lunch recently who fervently insisted that a major source of our ills is the dreadful toxins in our water supply and that the only way to get healthy was to buy filtered water or a filtration unit. A friend of mine takes vitamins because his wife insists he “needs” them even though he has a good diet and appears as fit as a Mallee bull.

Even in a country with one of the highest standards of living in the world, there’s an undercurrent of unease that the minor discomforts of life might be symptoms of a conspiracy to make us unwell, and that cynical pharmaceutical corporations are exploiting us for huge profits. The irony is that the companies peddling stuff like Fernblock (such a nice, friendly, woody sounding name) are some of the biggest earners (to the tune of A$1.5 billion per annum in Australia alone) yet they somehow avoid the taint of greedy commercialism in the eyes of the consumer. They also get a special bonus by not having to show that their product actually does anything, unlike the highly regulated pharmaceutical market where extensive clinical trials are required.

Perhaps it’s a reaction to the complexities of life. We are bombarded by conflicting advice, arguments about the pros and cons of health alternatives and  a stream of medical horror stories by the press so there’s always going to be a niche for someone willing to exploit that confusion.