August 16, 2012

Oral Sunscreen: Get the facts here!

Recent studies have been exploring the efficacy of oral supplements to be used as “oral sunscreen.” Let’s talk about what these supplements are, if they actually work to your benefit, and whether they should be a part of your sun protection regimen. 

Heliocare® is just one example of “oral sunscreen” products on the market. Like others of its kind, it consists of a fern extract called Polypodium leucotomos extract (PLE) in combination with other antioxidants, specifically green tea extract and beta-carotene. Antioxidants, as we know, can have a number of positive effects on your skin by reducing cell damage in your body. PLE works like an antioxidant and acts as a “sunscreen” by preserving the structure of your skin. How does it do this? Without getting too technical, the antioxidant nature of PLE can protect the cells in your skin by preventing the production of “free radicals,” molecules which can cause damage to your cells’ DNA and have been long-associated with different types of cancer. 

For decades, PLE has been used to provide relief of other skin conditions including psoriasis, dermatitis, and vitiligo. No long-term negative effects have been associated with consumption of this fern extract as a dietary supplement. Potential interactions between PLE and other drugs have not been thoroughly explored, however it is suspected to have effects on efficacy of heart medications. 

So do oral supplements work as sunscreen? NO. You will still get a sunburn if you stay in the sun. Antioxidants can protect your skin cells, however they will not prevent the changes UV light makes on your skin. Current evidence does not suggest that that this dietary supplement is harmful, but sun avoidance is truly the only way to protect yourself from skin cancer and the appearance of aged, sun damaged skin. 

Regardless of your skin type, history of sun exposure, and history of skin cancer, you should physically cover your skin by wearing wide-brimmed hats, staying under a large umbrella, and applying sunscreen with at least SPF 60 daily. 

By Lily Talakoub MD and Seville Nagia

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