Home > Alternative Therapies, Nutritional Supplements > Fern Extract and Sun Protection

Fern Extract and Sun Protection

May 4, 2009 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

Summer is nearly upon us and that means that many us will be spending more time outdoors in the sun. While this is a good thing in many respects, it also increases the likelihood of sun damage and premature aging of skin. Another very real concern is skin cancer. But these risks may be significantly reduced if we protect ourselves from excessive UV radiation during the peak hours of the day and by supporting the body from the inside out.


There is a little known nutritional supplement that may help shield the skin from the harmful effects of summertime sun exposure. I’m referring to a fern extract (Polypodium leucotomos) that has been the subject of scientific study for over a decade. Here’s an overview of several studies that support its use as an “internal sunscreen”.

  • In 2004, a study at the Harvard Medical School Department of Dermatology tested the effects of a fern extract on 9 healthy adults. The volunteers were exposed to artificial UV radiation on two different occasions. In one instance, they were asked to take the fern extract. The second UV radiation session was administered without the supplement. Skin tests performed 24 hours after the UV exposures demonstrated a significant “chemophotoprotective” effect thanks to the fern extract. The dosage used was 7.5 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. This would equate to just over 500 mg for a 150 pound individual and about 700 mg for someone who weighs 200 pounds. (1)
  • An Italian trial from 2007 found that those with sun sensitivity also responded very well to fern supplementation. 25 patients consumed 480 mgs of fern extract a day and found that it provided a statistical reduction in “skin reaction and subjective symptoms”. In addition, this natural medication did not provoke unwanted side effects. (2)

A recent scientific review from the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center revealed several proposed mechanisms by which this fern extract appears to work:

  1. It inhibits the formation of free radicals and the typical oxidative damage brought about by UV radiation. This may have to do, in part, with the naturally occurring antioxidants present in ferns. (3)
  2. It specifically protects skin cells and DNA from sun related damage/decomposition and cell death. This may account for some of the skin anti-aging effect noted in some research. (4,5)
  3. Fern extracts also show a remarkable anti-inflammatory effect in skin tissue. Chronic inflammation appears to contribute to both cancer and wrinkle formation. (6,7)
  4. Fern extract preserves immune function during UV exposure, which may prevent harmful cellular changes that play a role in the development of skin cancer. (8)
The Skin and Sunburn

The topical application of fern may yield added benefits as well. Studies as far back as 1997 show its far reaching potential as a skin saver. (9,10) The prospect of combining oral and topical fern appears to be very promising indeed. In fact, even difficult to treat skin conditions such atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and vitiligo (a loss of pimentation in sections of the skin) may be responsive to a combination therapy that includes fern extract. (11,12,13,14,15)

Using fern extracts will not give you license to engage in reckless sun exposure. But it may give you an added layer of protection from the harmful effects of UV radiation. We all should spend some time in the sun. The health benefits are undeniable. But we should do so in a judicious manner. Fern extract appears to be an ally which can help us to derive more of the sun’s benefits with less potential for accompanying damage.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


Bookmark and Share

Related Posts:

Tags: , ,
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Nutritional Supplements

10 Comments & Updates to “Fern Extract and Sun Protection”

  1. David Says:

    Yeah, when summer comes I start my Fernblock of LEF :) Thanks for your articles

  2. JP Says:

    Thanks, David! How is that product working out for you?

    When I was researching fern I found some really interesting studies that even show neurological benefits. It seems like it’s potential hasn’t been fully tapped as of yet.

    I just noticed that the shampoo I use contains fern extract as well! I guess manufacturers are starting to take note of this ingredient. Hopefully that trend will continue.

    Be well!


  3. Iggy Dalrymple Says:

    I’m curious if the fern extract interferes with vitamin D synthesis?

  4. JP Says:

    That’s a great question, Iggy.

    I’m not sure anyone knows for sure.

    I sent your question to the leading manufacturer of such a product. Hopefully they’ll get back to us. If they do, I’ll report back.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:


    I got a reply back re: the Vitamin D issue.

    Here’s what they conveyed to me:

    “According to the researcher who developed the product, it works mainly by antioxidant activity. It is not expected to interfere with vitamin D conversion.”

    Be well!


  6. Alison Says:

    Do you only take the Heliocare on days you are going to be in the sun?

  7. JP Says:


    Here’s some relevant information provided on the Heliocare site:

    Q. When does Heliocare Oral start to be active?

    A. The protection is active half an hour after taking the capsule.

    Even though the product’s activity is immediate, we recommend starting taking Heliocare Oral a few weeks before the major sun exposure periods.

    Q. How long does the protection last?

    A. Clinical studies performed in Boston suggest that the protection offered by Fernblock™ is still active at 2.5 hrs after the systemic administration.

    We have no experimental data on the activity beyond 2.5hrs. However, the protection against histological damages was very significant at 2.0 hrs evaluation and this may suggest a longer lasting protection from subclinical damages (histological protection is being considered among the scientific community as much important as the one against clinical erythema).

    Additional studies will be performed.

    Be well!


  8. Alison Says:

    Thank you very much for the quick response – this is very helpful!

  9. JP Says:

    Updated 1/28/16:


    PLoS One. 2016 Jan 27;11(1):e0147056.

    Higher Caffeinated Coffee Intake Is Associated with Reduced Malignant Melanoma Risk: A Meta-Analysis Study.

    BACKGROUND: Several epidemiological studies have determined the associations between coffee intake level and skin cancer risk; however, the results were not yet conclusive. Herein, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of the cohort and case-control studies for the association between coffee intake level and malignant melanoma (MM) risk.

    METHODS: Studies were identified through searching the PubMed and MEDLINE databases (to November, 2015). Study-specific risk estimates were pooled under the random-effects model.

    RESULTS: Two case-control studies (846 MM patients and 843 controls) and five cohort studies (including 844,246 participants and 5,737 MM cases) were identified. For caffeinated coffee, the pooled relative risk (RR) of MM was 0.81 [95% confidential interval (95% CI) = 0.68-0.97; P-value for Q-test = 0.003; I2 = 63.5%] for those with highest versus lowest quantity of intake. In the dose-response analysis, the RR of MM was 0.955 (95% CI = 0.912-0.999) for per 1 cup/day increment of caffeinated coffee consumption and linearity dose-response association was found (P-value for nonlinearity = 0.326). Strikingly, no significant association was found between the decaffeinated coffee intake level and MM risk (pooled RR = 0.92, 95% CI = 0.81-1.05; P-value for Q-test = 0.967; I2 = 0%; highest versus lowest quantity of intake).

    CONCLUSIONS: This meta-analysis suggested that caffeinated coffee might have chemo-preventive effects against MM but not decaffeinated coffee. However, larger prospective studies and the intervention studies are warranted to confirm these findings.

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Updated 09/26/16:


    Br J Dermatol. 2016 Sep 23.

    Molecular evidence that oral supplementation with lycopene or lutein protects human skin against ultraviolet radiation: Results from a double-blinded, placebo-controlled, cross-over study.

    BACKGROUND: Increasing evidence suggests photo-protection by oral supplementation with ß-carotene and lycopene.

    OBJECTIVES: We examined the capacity of lycopene rich tomato nutrient complex (TNC) and lutein, to protect against UVA/B- and UVA1 radiation at a molecular level.

    METHODS: In a placebo-controlled, double blinded, randomized cross over study two actives containing either TNC or lutein were assessed for their capacity to decrease the expression of UVA1 radiation-inducible genes including heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1) and matrix metalloproteinase-1 (MMP-1). 65 healthy volunteers were allocated to 4 treatment groups and subjected to a 2-weeks wash-out phase, followed by two 12-weeks treatment phases separated by another 2-weeks wash-out. Volunteers started either with active and switched then to placebo or vice versa. At the beginning and at the end of each treatment phase skin was irradiated and 24 hours later biopsies were taken from untreated, UVB/A- and UVA1 irradiated skin for subsequent RT-PCR analysis of gene expression. Moreover, blood samples were taken after the wash out and the treatment phases for assessment of carotenoids.

    RESULTS: TNC completely inhibited UVA1 as well as UVA/B induced upregulation of HO-1, ICAM-1 and MMP1 mRNA no matter of sequence (ANOVA, p<0.05). In contrast, lutein provided complete protection if it was taken in the first period, but showed significantly smaller effects in the second sequence compared to TNC.

    CONCLUSION: Assuming the role of these genes as indicators of oxidative stress, photo-dermatoses and photo-aging these results might indicate that TNC and lutein could protect against solar radiation-induced health damage.

    Be well!


Leave a Comment

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture. Click on the picture to hear an audio file of the word.
Click to hear an audio file of the anti-spam word