Patients sometimes ask us, “Is there a sunscreen that I can take in a pill form?” So far, nothing beats the topical application of sunscreens/sunblocks as well as sun protective clothing and sun avoidance. However, oral supplementation with various plant extracts are emerging as potential boosters of sun protection. Some of the greatest interest surrounds botanicals endowed with powerful antioxidants such as polypodium leucotomos.
Polypodium leucotomos (PL) is a fern plant native to Central and South America, where it has long been used in traditional medicine for various skin ailments. Extracts of the plant are now available as over the counter oral supplements in the US.
Numerous scientific studies have been conducted in the US and show that the benefits of PL may include:
- Reducing sunburn and UVB sun damage
- Prevention of polymorphous light eruption and sun induced hives
- Benefits for other skin conditions including vitiligo, eczema, melasma and psoriasis
Serious side effects have not occurred although long-term studies have yet to be completed. Minor side effects are uncommon and include stomach upset and itch. It has not been extensively studied in children, pregnant or breast-feeding women. There have been no clinical trials that look at interactions with various drugs.
The SPF of polypodium is low (in the range of 3-8). But it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which protect the skin from free radicals produced after excessive sun exposure.
While more research is always helpful, the studies so far show PL to be safe and effective for a variety of conditions. It can be taken orally and there is good evidence to recommend its use to complement sunscreens and other methods of photoprotection. The brand name available in our office is Heliocare. Please ask us more about it at your next appointment.