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sun protection
  • Traditional, topical sunscreen and protective clothing offer the strongest coverage from harmful UV rays.
  • Heliocare and other oral supplements made with Polypodium leucotomos extract (PLE) offer another layer of protection when used with sunscreen.
  • This antioxidant-rich extract offers anti-inflammatory and anti-redness benefits, which can help the skin appear younger.
  • Some dermatologists recommend these supplements for their antiaging effects or to add extra protection for people who sunburn easily.

Too much sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. It can also cause wrinkles, broken blood vessels, and dark spots. Broad-spectrum UV protection topical sunscreen provides a powerful shield against damaging sun rays and free radicals. As a preventative measure, it remains the gold standard.

To understand the two basic ways the sun damages skin and why protecting it against free radicals is so important, beauty chemist David Pollock of Just Ask David explains:

“Sunscreen and SPF products help protect the body against UVA and UVB rays from the sun,” Pollock says. “Here is an easy way to know the difference in the two types of UV rays: A is for ‘aging’ and B is for ‘burns.’ In other words, UVA is responsible for the signs of aging, while UVB is responsible for sunburns.”

Since the two types of UV rays have different sun-related effects, it’s important to choose products with active ingredients that offer protection from both.

“When our skin is exposed to UVA rays, free radicals are created,” says Pollock. “Free radicals are unhealthy or unbalanced cells that are missing an electron. These damaged cells start a cascading effect, attacking healthy cells in order to ‘steal’ an electron. Heliocare is a dietary supplement that claims to be an antioxidant or, in other words, supplies the nutrients for the body to help protect itself against these free radicals.”

What are sun protection pills made of?

Heliocare is a daily oral supplement that claims to provide antiaging skin benefits and protection from sun damage. The company recommends only using their product for overall skin health, and not as a replacement for traditional sun protection.

The capsules contain antioxidants derived from a fern grown in Central and South America as part of what Heliocare calls Fernblock® technology, which employs antioxidants said to fight free radicals that cause aging.

This fern has also been shown to help with certain skin conditions that are worsened by sunlight (photosensitive dermatoses)—such as melasma and polymorphic light eruption (PMLE)—and has even been tested in discoid lupus, a condition that causes inflamed sores and scarring.

In one study, researchers found oral administration of P. leucotomos also provided measurable anti-inflammatory effects and helped treat vitiligo.

As Pollack points out, it’s very important to protect skin from UV damage, which in turn prevents the formation of free radicals. Products with antioxidant properties are considered the best tools for this purpose.

To combat the problem of free radicals, Heliocare relies on P. leucotomos extract (PLE). “Polypodium leucotomos is a fern that is thought to protect against UVB,” says Florida-based Dr. Matthew Elias from Elias Dermatology. “It does this through its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects by inducing p53, which is known as the antitumor protein.”

Sunsafe RX, another brand of sun protection pills, takes their claims further by promising to keep the skin safe from the damaging effects of both UVA and UVB rays.

Sunsafe RX and Heliocare both rely on PLE formulas, but Sunsafe RX has several additional ingredients—vitamins A, C, and E, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and green tea extract—that claim to offer additional benefits for general skin care. These extra ingredients, according to the manufacturer, help bolster the skin’s ability to stave off damage.

Does Heliocare actually work?

The abilities of the antitumor protein cited by Dr. Elias are promising. One study showed that it helped mitigate some of the damaging effects of UV rays in mice. The same study indicated P. leucotomos simultaneously helped increase potency of the p53 protein.

A clinical study published in The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology found that taking 240 mg of P. leucotomos twice daily for 60 days safely and effectively reduced the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. In another study, researchers who compiled over 40 years of research found P. leucotomos was safe for long-term use and had no reported serious side effects.

According to Beverly Hills-based dermatologist Dr. Tsippora Shainhouse, Heliocare may prevent skin cancer and photoaging by keeping the skin from burning. This makes it a good choice for people with fair and sun-sensitive skin.

“Heliocare acts as an ‘oral sunscreen’ and can suppress sunburn and make it take longer to tan, letting you safely stay out in the sun for longer,” she says. “It helps prevent both UVA and UVB-induced skin cell toxicity and direct DNA damage, and helps prevent the UV-induced free radical formation and subsequent DNA damage and collagen destruction.”

Dr. Elias concurs: “Heliocare is known to diminish redness, which is a fairly reliable sign of UV radiation to the skin, and can help with those who are sensitive to sunlight.”

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Can Heliocare replace sunscreen?

Dermatologists agree that Heliocare and other oral supplements should never be used as a replacement for traditional sun protection methods. It should be used for extra protection, not as the only protection.

“Heliocare is what is known as an adjunctive sun protection method, meaning it is not a replacement for strict sun avoidance, sunscreen, rash guards, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, but rather something that should be used in addition to these sun protective methods,” says Dr. Elias. “The mainstay of good sun protection remains a good, high-SPF broad spectrum sunscreen.”

Can Heliocare beautify my skin?

Some dermatologists and general healthcare professionals recommend Heliocare or Sunsafe RX to treat and prevent certain skin conditions.

“I frequently recommend Heliocare for its antiaging benefits, prevention of photosensitizing disorders (lupus, dermatomyositis, PMLE, etc.), and also because there’s evidence that it can be used for prevention of skin cancers,” says Yale-trained dermatologist Dr. Rhonda Q. Klein of Connecticut Dermatology Group.

Oral skin boosters have stumped international dermatologists for decades, but Heliocare’s methodology is promising. The manufacturer’s claim: equipping skin cells with this antioxidant property gives skin the added ability to ward off sun-related effects and aging. And preventing skin from frequent burns translates into fewer skin issues.

Overall, reviews online are quite favorable (Heliocare has four and a half stars on Amazon), with users reporting this supplement does appear to help prevent certain forms of sun damage. However, the effects seem to vary widely from person to person.

The bottom line: is Heliocare worth the cost?

Heliocare is great for anyone who wants to fight age-related skin damage, and may help those who have certain skin disorders that make them more sensitive to sunlight. It’s also easy to use and convenient, with safe and natural ingredients.

Depending on your preferred brand of sunscreen, Heliocare may cost more—about $30 for a two-month supply—but when you consider that it also has antiaging benefits, it may cut costs associated with the skincare products you use every day.

Current research suggests Heliocare and other sun protection products that rely on P. leucotomos extract are safe and effective. There are also more than 20 peer-reviewed research articles supporting the efficacy and safety of P. leucotomos, even with long-term use, in the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

You should know that dietary supplements don’t need to be approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they enter the market. Also bear in mind that these products should only be used in conjunction with, not in place of, topical sunscreen.

When used as directed, results indicate that oral sun protection will aid as part of a healthy skincare regimen.

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