Medical experts offer response to ‘TB12 Method’ claim about avoiding sunburn through hydration

"There is no scientific evidence that level of hydration would protect someone from getting damage from ultraviolet radiation."

The exterior of the TB12 Sports Therapy Center is seen among the other stores at Patriot Place adjacent to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Friday, Dec. 18, 2015.
The exterior of the TB12 Sports Therapy Center is seen among the other stores at Patriot Place adjacent to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., on Friday, Dec. 18, 2015. –Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe

Tom Brady might be successfully avoiding sunburns, but some experts aren’t buying his approach. At least one doctor says a claim about sunburn prevention in the recently published book, “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance,” is “definitely incorrect.”

According to Brady’s book, proper hydration has a correlation to avoiding sunburns. It’s an aspect of the “TB12 Method” that has already garnered national attention. Here’s the passage in which Brady describes how he thinks he avoids getting burned:

When I was growing up, and playing outside in the sun, I got sunburned a lot. I was a fair-skinned Irish boy, after all. These days, even if I get an adequate amount of sun, I won’t get a sunburn, which I credit to the amount of water I drink. I always hydrate afterward, too, to keep my skin from peeling. When I once told that to my sister, she said, “You mean I don’t have to use all those moisturizers and facial products to keep my skin looking good? I should just drink as much water as you do? I think you should market your [stupid water drop things] as a beauty product.” I just laughed.

The assertion of a link between drinking water and avoiding sunburns is something that isn’t scientifically backed.

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“I think that that is definitely incorrect,” said Dr. Jessica Flynn, who practices sports medicine in the Boston area.

“It actually is protective to have a dry layer of skin. If a woman or a man goes and gets a facial and they remove the outer layer of skin, they’re more likely to get sunburned because the skin is newer and more sensitive. There’s just nothing behind hydration preventing sunburn.”

Dr. Caroline Kim, who is director of the pigmented lesion clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, offered more detail. While noting that she – like Flynn – is a fan of Brady’s, Kim explained that there is no proof to the claim of hydration as a preventative measure against getting a sunburn:

I’m all for his healthy living style, but in terms of his actual hypothesis of hydration preventing sunburn, we do understand a lot about the biology of what creates a sunburn and that is ultraviolet radiation. There is no scientific evidence that level of hydration would protect someone from getting damage from ultraviolet radiation. We know that the best methods of protection really are clothing and sunblock.

Kim did offer hydration as a valuable component of helping to deal with a sunburn once it was acquired:

I think that people do talk about hydration in terms of good care after one gets a sunburn. That’s because with a severe sunburn, you can lose a lot of water as the blood levels in your skin are dilated. You can lose a lot of excess moisture that way and become quite dehydrated. So it is a good idea to drink a lot of water if you get a sunburn, but in terms of prevention of sunburn, we really do heavily emphasize trying to cover up, putting sunblock on, and avoiding peak hours.

The sunburn claim is just one small passage in Brady’s expansive health and fitness guide. For Dr. Flynn, it underscores one of the criticisms that is often made in regards to the much-discussed TB12 Method.

“My problem with the book is that by the end, the way that they present the TB12 Method is so factual – they just state it as fact – and there are a lot of true facts in the book,” Flynn added, “but you almost find yourself not realizing what’s fact and what isn’t. What’s proven fact and what they believe is fact. And that’s coming from a physician, and I like to think that I’m pretty educated about this. So for the average reader, it reads like absolutely everything in there is fact, and it’s not, unfortunately. It could be proven fact one day, it’s just not yet.”

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