Heliocare – you’ve seen the advertising. Is it a sunscreen replacement?

Dr. Irwin, I've been reading your blogs for years and love your advice, and informative information. What do you think of Heliocare? Thank you! CG

I’m going to give you the bottom line on this first because it’s SOOOO different than what you supposedly get from all these companies’ marketing and messaging. Heliocare is a supplement that claims to have “effectiveness in shielding skin against dangerous ultraviolet exposure”. All these contain extracts of polypodium leucotomos an extract of a type of cabbage fern. Also, if you’re a science geek too, here’s a link below to a great summary of the evidence based deal on this.

Bottom Line on Heliocare –  Just say no. Here’s why.

  • At best, this provides an SPF of about 2-3. Not nearly enough to be effective. You still need a topical sunscreen.
  • There are no studies on its effect on the liver or kidneys. Who wants to find out only after using it that there’s a problem???
  • There are very few studies on this and they were very small and poorly done.
  • The studies need to compare side effects of this and side effects of topical sunscreens and none of them do that.

I am quoting this reference, which I edited a bit, below. Read the full article here. By the way, that link goes to a great site in general!


The most common side effect reported in the limited research is stomach upset. Advertisers repeatedly use the statement, “has been safely used for over 20 years in Europe,” but I can find no published evidence of this.

Based on the the evidence above, these products seems to be safe when taken for a week – the longest trial that’s been published. There is no published information showing these Polypodium leucotomos products are safe if taken for a longer period. There’s no information about the supplement’s safety in children, or in pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Fernblock‘s dose is 240-480mg in the morning, 30 minutes before sun exposure, and “for extended sun exposure take one additional capsule at noon.” The manufacturer also recommends use with SPF 30 sunscreen, and cautions, “Use topical sunscreens whenever exposed to sunlight. This product is not a sunscreen.”

Heliocare has a similar dose: two 240mg capsules daily before exposure to sun, with a third capsule for prolonged exposure to the sun. There is a caution: “Do not exceed the stated recommended daily consumption of three Heliocare capsules per day.” The manufacturer also notes, “Heliocare is definitely NOT a substitute for good sunscreens and protective clothing.”

Sunpill is packaged as a 639 mg dose of Polypodium leucotomos and several other ingredients including green tea, aloe, pomegranate, and beet root, all without persuasive evidence of effectiveness for UVA/UVB sun protection. It’s not clear how much Polypodium leucotomos is in the product. The manufacturer states, “New research from the University of Miami School of Medicine shows that the fern extract in these pills significantly reduced UVA-related DNA damage that leads to wrinkling and brown spots. For best results, pop one each day starting a week before you plan on fun in the sun.” It also adds, “It is alway (sic) advisable to use a topical sunscreen when you are going to be out in the sun for an extended period of time.”

Quoted from SienceBasedMedicine.org

Bottom Line Again:

In my opinion, stay away from all of these products for now.
For my best advice on what sunscreen is right for you, see my in-depth article here.
For sunscreen products I personally recommend to my dermatology patients, see my shop here.

Hope this helps,  Dr. I

Dr. Brandith Irwin, MD

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Hi, I’m Dr. Irwin. I believe that consumers deserve a medically trained and unbiased skin care advocate.

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