The supplement industry is a booming business, with a global revenue of US$ 132.8 billion in 2016. There seems to be a pill, powder, or drink for everything these days, which brings us to the topic of this post: the sunscreen pill. While there are several brands that offer the sunscreen pill, a daily supplement meant to protect your skin from the harmful effects of the sun, we’ll be discussing the brand Heliocare in this article. Read on to learn what Heliocare is, how Heliocare provides sun protection, and everything else you need to know about Heliocare pills.
What is Heliocare?
Heliocare, also referred to as the “sunscreen pill”, is a daily dietary supplement that helps your skin protect itself from the harmful effects of free radicals. It contains an extract from the Polypodium leucotomos fern, found in the wilds of Central and South America. Once an aquatic plant, this fern adapted to life on land and created its own protection from the harsh effects of free radicals in the environment. The antioxidants in the Polypodium leucotomos extract (PLE) help protect against the aging effects of free radicals. Heliocare affects the skin over your entire body and won’t be washed away by swimming, sweating, and other activities.
How does Heliocare provide sun protection?
In order to understand how Heliocare pills provide sun protection, it’s first important to have a good understanding of free radicals and antioxidants.
A free radical, also known as an oxidant, is any atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in an atomic orbital. Normally, an atomic orbital is capable of holding two electrons, but free radicals only have one unpaired electron, which makes the free radical unstable and highly reactive. If a free radical contains an oxygen molecule it is referred to as reactive oxygen species (ROS). We are exposed to free radicals every day. Common examples of free radicals sources include ultraviolet radiation, environmental pollution, stress, alcohol, cigarette smoke, etc.
Free radicals are dangerous because they are highly reactive. In an attempt to become more stable, free radicals will either donate their single electron to another molecule or accept an electron from another molecule. Ultimately, this leads to a chain of events that rips electrons off all nearby molecules. This is problematic because free radicals can rip electrons off our important cellular structures, like DNA, proteins, carbohydrates, or the cell membrane, which damages the cell and may even lead to cell death. Altogether, the damage to cells caused by free radicals is known as oxidative stress. The free radical theory of aging (FRTA) states that organisms age because cells accumulate oxidative stress caused by free radical damage over time. Free radicals are the reason why our skin starts to show signs of aging, such as lines, wrinkles, and age spots.
Fortunately, antioxidants are the body’s natural defense mechanism against free radical damage. Antioxidants are also known as reducing agents, which means they can donate an electron to another atom or molecule. By donating electrons to free radicals, antioxidants are able to limit oxidative damage caused by free radicals. The International Dermal Institute explains, “Antioxidants help prevent such damage by giving free radicals what they want before they attack your cells.” Consuming antioxidants and/or applying topical antioxidants can help to prevent signs of aging.
There are three different Heliocare products: Heliocare, Heliocare Ultra, and Heliocare Advanced.
The regular Heliocare pills contain only Fernblock, which is 240 mg of Polypodium leucotomos (Calaguala) leaf extract. Taken once daily, Heliocare is said to help promote younger, more resilient-looking skin.
Heliocare Ultra contains a double dose of Fernblock (compared to regular Heliocare pills), as well as additional antioxidant benefit with pomegranate extract and L-ascorbic acid (vitamin C). While L-ascorbic acid is a potent antioxidant, it’s important to note that the absorption in the gut is limited by an active transport mechanism after oral intake. Furthermore, bioavailability of L-ascorbic acid in the skin is inadequate when it is administered orally. For this reason, you will likely notice more benefit from using topical L-ascorbic acid.
Heliocare Advanced contains the regular dose of Fernblock (240 mg of Polypodium leucotomos (Calaguala) leaf extract), as well as 500 mg niacin (as nicotinamide). Nicotinamide is a form of vitamin B3 that has been shown to support skin health and energy production. Unlike niacin, nicotinamide should not cause flushing. In a 2015 study published in the journal American Health & Drug Benefits, oral nicotinamide was found to cut the rate of new squamous-cell and basal-cell skin cancers by 23% compared with placebo after 1 year among patients at high risk for skin cancer. Nicotinamide also reduced the risk for developing actinic keratosis, a common precancer of the skin.
Is the sunscreen pill safe?
According to Heliocare, there are over 75 publications and clinical studies covering safety, efficacy, and consistency of the active ingredient Polypodium leucotomos (Calaguala) leaf extract. So does this mean if you take the sunscreen pill you don’t have to wear sunscreen? The short answer is no. It’s still important to wear a broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen if you plan on being in the sun for a prolonged period of time. In fact, the FDA released a statement warning about the risks of using oral supplements as a sole form of sun protection. This is because Heliocare and other brands of the sunscreen pill are not sunscreen! They do not block the radiation or offer a shield against ultraviolet radiation.
There are only 14 Heliocare reviews on the brand’s website, with an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars. Many of the reviews mention that Heliocare helps to alleviate pre-existing skin conditions, such as melasma, lichen plantus, uneven skin tone, and itchy red bumps associated with sun allergy.
References: Am Health Drug Benefits 2015 Aug; 8(Spec Issue): 13–14, Indian Dermatol Online J 2013 Apr-Jun; 4(2): 143–146, HuffPost.com “The FDA is Warning Against Sun Protection Pills. Here’s Why.” June 2018