Polypodium leucotomos: is this fern extract an oral sunscreen?

Recently, a group of us dermatologists were lamenting that fact that there is no sunscreen in pill form. Wouldn’t it great if there were an oral sunscreen out there?   You could just take it with your daily multivitamin. Or rather, it could be incorporated into your daily multivitamin.

Then we remembered the Polypodium leucotomos fern.  Polypodium leucotomos is a fern that has been used as a folk remedy for years for many different conditions due to its antioxidant properties.  The product Heliocare or Fernblock contains an extract from this fern and has been marketed to protect you “against sun-related effects and aging.”

So is this fern extract really an oral sunscreen?  Not quite.  So far, the published studies have been small.  Some of these small studies suggest that in various skin conditions, this extract may help decrease sensitivity to the sun.  For example, in a rash called polymorphous light eruption (PMLE), this extract may prevent flares of this rash in some individuals (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 2012; 66(1)).  In a more recent study evaluating whether this extract can be used in melasma which is strongly influenced by the sun (JAMA Dermatology, 2013; 5(1-2)), the extract didn’t help in the treatment of melasma.

So what’s the bottom line?  Keep up with sun protection by seeking the shade, sun protective clothing and sunscreen use.  The Polypodium leucotomos fern may provide extra protection but more studies are needed.

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