This is the first installation of Plants for Skin, where I will discuss the beneficial effects on our skin of one ingredient which comes from the natural world. I am doing this because it fascinates me, it is a way for me to learn more and hopefully to teach my reader something useful, and because I feel that part of a happy life is having some kind of relationship with nature, which is hard to achieve in New York City sometimes! So this is a communion with and a thank you to the natural world for giving us these wondrous ingredients we can use to have nicer skin!!!
My first ingredient is Polypodium Leucotomos, a fern found in the tropical rain forests of Central and South America, which has been used in traditional medicine in these regions for many things including psoriasis, eczema, and types of arthritis. Its ability to help prevent sunburn and sun damage, known as its “”photoprotective” effects were studied at Harvard Medical School in the 1990’s. Polypodium Lecotomos extract protects against both UVA and UVB damage.
To summarize what it does:
- It reduces free radicals in the skin, which damage DNA in skin cells, making them more prone to mutation and cancer
- It does not allow Langerhans cells to be depleted; These important immune cells are key in getting rid of mutated cells in the skin, so you want them around!
- It reduces the number of sunburn cells, signs of UVB damage
- It reduces the amount of matrix metalloproteinase 1 (MMP-1) - Huh? What you need to know is that MMP-1 damages elastic tissue and collagen, leading to premature aging, which nobody wants!
- It inhibits mast cells, which cause inflammation, redness and itching
For these reasons, Polypodium Leucotomos extract is known as “the sunburn pill”
It is available without a prescription - the 2 you are most likely to find are Heliocare and FernBlock. I recommend taking one every morning when you know you are going to get a lot of sun. It is very useful for patients who are “allergic to the sun” and get rashes from exposure. But remember!!! This pill is not a get-out-of-jail-free card where you can go out and bake with no consequences!!! You still need to LIMIT sun exposure, and use an SPF 30 sunscreen, preferably a non-chemical one with the minerals zinc or titanium.