By: Jeffrey Sassmannshausen, M.D.
August 13, 2013
One of my patients recently asked me if it was true that there is a pill that will prevent sunburns. I explained that I had never heard of such a thing. Then, low and behold, I received an advertisement in the mail the next day for Heliocare, a daily supplement that is supposed to protect you from the sun.
What is Heliocare and does it work? Heliocare is an over the counter supplement made from the plant Polypodium leucotomos. This fern has many antioxidants that are claimed to be protective against ultraviolet light. Throughout the company advertising however, is the statement, “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.” When claims are made by any cosmeceutical or supplement that carry this disclaimer, one must be very skeptical.
I spent some time reviewing the scientific journals looking to see if any of these claims could be supported. Most of the papers were looking at adding daily Polypodium leucotomos extract to individuals with diseases that made them extremely sensitive to sun exposure. In these individuals, there was less sensitivity. It made daily activity a bit more tolerable.
The Los Angeles Times discussed Heliocare and the efficacy of oral sunscreens in an article in June, 2009. Dr. Salvador Gonzalez, a dermatology researcher at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who has done extensive research on plant based sunscreens, estimated that “the supplement provides a sun protection factor of 3, which would put it roughly on par with a weak sunscreen.”
My opinion is that this product may offer a small benefit to an extremely fair-skinned individual or a person with a disease that makes them extremely susceptible to the sun. To the average individual, it probably isn’t much help. Even in the Heliocare advertising, it states that this product “is not a sunscreen and should be used in addition to topical sun protection.” My advice: stick to sunscreens (SPF 30+ is best)!