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Can a Pill Really Protect You From Sun Damage?

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does a pill offer sun damage protection? Auremar/PhotoSpin

Part 2 in a 2-part series

In Part 1, you were introduced to polypodium leucotomos, a natural compound found in the rhizomes (rootstock) of some fern plants that has shown some promise in protecting human skin from damaging UVA and UVB sun rays.

Polypodium is one key ingredient found in several pill supplements on the market that promise to provide, as one product puts it, “maximum protection with a daily dose!”

So are these supplements a silver bullet to protect you and your family’s skin from the sun’s rays?

Most experts say not yet.

While polypodium supplements get mixed assessments from the experts, can some people benefit from extra sun protection the supplements might provide?

Some doctors say perhaps, but warn they are never a substitute for topical sunscreens or practicing sun safety.

Melanie D. Palm, MD, MBA, is Founding Director of The Art of Skin MD in Solana Beach, Calif., and an assistant clinical professor at UC San Diego. She uses a polypodium supplement herself and recommends it to a variety of her patients.

Palm particularly encourages its use for those with high sensitivity to the sun that accompanies skin conditions such as melasma and psoriasis, and inflammatory diseases such as lupus, and even skin cancers.

She says when used with a topical broad-spectrum sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher, oral polypodium has “changed some of my patients’ lives.”

Anecdotal evidence aside, there hasn’t yet been enough research to know if oral polypodium effectively protects human skin from harmful UV rays as advertised, said Dr. Emma Taylor, a medical dermatologist at UCLA.

“That doesn’t mean it’s been discredited,” Taylor said. “It just hasn’t gone through rigorous testing so there is actually very little we know about it. The research just isn’t there yet.”

Several preliminary studies have looked at the efficacy of polypodium extracts in humans, but the literature seems to point to insufficient results.

For example, the studies were not blinded, the participant groups were very small, and results were modest or insignificant. Little is currently known about possible side effects, long-term use or possible interactions with other medications, said Taylor.

Some studies point to adverse side effects in some people from taking polypodium supplements, including stomach upset, itching, low blood pressure, and rapid heart rate. Changes in heart function in test animals have also been noted.

Healthy Habit advises using caution if combining polypodium with heart medications such as beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers or digoxin.

“In theory, the use of Polypodium leucotomos extract with medications that affect heart function or lower blood pressure may cause the effects of these drugs to increase,” it says.

Parents should also be aware that little information is available about the use of polypodium in children, and safety information is not clear. It is also recommended that pregnant or lactating women avoid use due to insufficient safety information.

”Protects the skin from the harmful UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays. Allows your body to receive the benefits of the sun. Helps prevent aging-lines and skin damage.”—Sun Pill advertising

Advertising claims may sound pretty convincing on “oral sun screens” and they are considered to be “generally safe” dietary supplements. However their classification as supplements means they are held to different standard than "conventional" foods and drug products, according to the FDA website.

There's no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of these kind of products, and effects may vary, so you are likely to see this disclaimer on oral sunscreen packaging:

”*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”

A month's supply of polypodium supplements sell for $20-$50 and are widely available online.

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer and Scuba enthusiast who lives in San Diego with her husband and two beach loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in publications internationally.


interview. Dr. Emma Taylor. 9 July 2013

Interview. Dr. Melanie Palm. 11 July 2013

Orally adminstred Polypodium leucotomos extract decreases psoralen-UVA-induced phototoxicity pigmentation, and damage to human skin. Middelkamp-Hup MA, Pathak MA, Parrado C, et al.

Orally administered Polypodium leucotomos extract decreases psoralen-UVA-induced phototoxicity, pigmentation, and damage of human skin. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004 Jan;50(1):41-9. (abstract)

Gonzalez S, Pathak MA, Cuevas J, et al. Topical or oral administration with an extract of Polypodium leucotomos prevents acute sunburn and psoralen-induced phototoxic reactions as well as depletion of Langerhans cells in human skin. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 1997 Feb-Apr;13(1-2):50-60 Abstract.

Dietary Supplements. Food and Drug Administration.

Sun Pill. Empowered Doctor. Online.

Sun Pill. Official web site.

Sun Assure. Official web site.

Polypodium leucotomos extract and anapsos. Healthy Habit Health Foods. Retrieved July 22, 2013.

Reviewed July 22, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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