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Oral Sunblock Supplements - Do they really work?

Oral Sunblocks have been around the market for many years now. Popular brands in the market include Heliocare and Crystal Tomato.

They promise many benefits such as increased Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) protection, skin whitening, anti-oxidant and anti-aging.

With multiple benefits, it is no surprise that many have jumped on the bandwagon in the pursuit of better skin. These supplements cost between $160-180 for a month's supply, not exactly chump change for many.

Hence the question - Do they really work?

TLDR summary - Yes they do!

Want to learn more about the science and evidence? Read on!

Why is Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) protection important?

Before we delve into how oral sunblocks work, let us recap why Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) protection is important.

Prolonged UV exposure is linked to

  • Increased risk of skin cancer
  • Sunburns
  • Premature skin aging (photo-aging)
  • Increased wrinkles
  • Pigmentary disorders

Sunblock is undoubtedly one of the most cost effective and easiest ways to protect one’s skin from harmful UV rays.

However, its efficacy is reduced by several commonly reported factors.

  • Non-compliance in applying sunblock
  • Inconvenience in re-applying sunblock after 4 to 6 hours
  • Perspiration and sweat reduces effectiveness of sunblock coverage
  • Reluctance to have a “white sunblock sheen” over face
  • Make up does not “sit well” over sunblock
  • Fear of acne outbreaks when applying oily sunblocks

Taking into account the above factors, it is no wonder that naturally occurring oral sunblock supplements have been a big hit in the aesthetic market!

Show me the evidence!

Word of caution - This is where the article gets wordy. Skip to the parts that says TLDR Summary for the important bits.

Dr Edwin analysed the active ingredients of popular oral sunblock supplements and performed a literature review to see if research studies can provide evidence and support for these supplements.

Two of the most studied ingredients are Polypodium Leucotomos (found in Heliocare) and Colourless Carotenoids (found in Crystal Tomato).

Polypodium Leucotomos

Polypodium leucotomos is the main ingredient in Heliocare and belongs to a South American species of fern called Polypodiaceae.

It is a potent antioxidant with demonstrated photo- and immunoprotective activities against ultraviolet (UV) radiation. 

This fern extract has also been used for many years to treat a variety of skin conditions such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis and melasma. 

One study titled "Safety and Efficacy of Oral Polypodium leucotomos Extract in Healthy Adult Subjects" reported that participants experienced a decrease in number sunburn episodes and lesser skin erythema (redness) when exposed to the sun.

They found that “Orally administered P. leucotomos extract decreases UV-mediated oxidative damage to DNA by enhancing the activity of endogenous antioxidant systems responsible for blocking the formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS).” Damaged DNA affects cell repair and replication, increasing the risk of skin cancer and photoaging.

TLDR summary - Polypodium leucotomos provides photoprotection from the harmful effects of UV radiation. Furthermore, it is a strong anti-oxidant and has an excellent safety profile making it suitable for long-term use. 

Another study done by the National Skin Centre in Singapore titled "Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Trial to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Polypodium Leucotomos Extract in the Treatment of Melasma in Asian Skin also reported that Polypodium leucotomos" can significantly reduce the severity of sunburn, decrease the risk of UV radiation-induced skin cancer and prevent skin aging.

More interestingly these 2 points were brought up, “patients experienced significant improvement in mMASI scores from the first month of treatment, indicating that Polypodium leucotomos accelerates the pigmentation clearance of melasma compared to those treated with topical 4% hydroquinone and sunscreen alone” and “a systemic photoprotective agent, such as Polypodium leucotomos, can provide uniform, total body surface protection, which might have an advantage over topical protection.

TLDR summary - Polypodium leucotomos improves melasma and has an added advantage and convenience of providing UV protection for the entire body!

Other studies such as Schalka et al have reported that “continued use of Polypodium leucotomos is effective in increasing individual resistance to UV-induced pigmentation and erythema and thus might be useful in treating pigmentary disorders

In another study, 12 researchers concluded that orally administered Polypodium leucotomos also appears to provide benefits in treating vitiligo and melasma and might help with post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation.

TLDR summary - Polypodium leucotomos reduces formation of pigmentation, improves melasma and post inflammatory hyperpigmentation

Colourless Carotenoids

Phytoene and Phytofluene are the 2 main colourless carotenoids in oral sunblock supplements.

Compared to other forms of carotenoids found in vegetables and fruits, they are uniquely able to absorb Ultraviolet Radiation from sun exposure.

Phytoene absorbs maximally in the UVB region (280–320nm) and Phytofluene in the UVA region (320–400 nm)

The study titled "Skin Carotenoids in Public Health and Nutricosmetics: The Emerging Roles and Applications of the UV Radiation-Absorbing Colourless Carotenoids Phytoene and Phytofluene" reported that colourless carotenoids consumed orally are deposited and stored in the skin, conferring UV protective properties. Furthermore, ample evidence in the study indicated that colourless carotenoids contribute to decreasing the risk of developing diseases such as cancer, heart and diabetes by reducing DNA damage and inflammation through the reduction of free radicals.

Other studies by Von Oppen-Bezalel L. titled "Colorless Carotenoids, phytoene and phytofluene for the skin: For prevention of aging/photo-aging from inside and out" and Von Oppen-Bezalel L., Havas F., Ramot O. titled "Phytoene and Phytofluene for (Photo) Protection, Anti Aging, Lightening and Evening of Skin Tone” reported skin lightening effects and beneficial effects like anti-ageing and anti-wrinkling effects after daily oral intake of colourless carotenoids.

TLDR summary - On top of UVR protective benefits, Colourless Carotenoids have additional cosmetic and health benefits such as antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, skin lightening and anti-aging.

Sounds good - Can we combine both?

Being a typical kiasu Singaporean, Dr Edwin wanted the best of both worlds. 

He collaborated with a local compounding pharmacy for research and development and formulated the Maxi-White Oral Skincare Supplement.

To further enhance skin whitening and lightening of pigmentation, Dr Edwin added a third critical ingredient to the supplement - Glutathione, on top of Polypodium Leucotomos and Colourless Carotenoids, 

Maxi-White Oral Skin Care Supplement

Its unique selling point is the combination of 3 active ingredients into one oral supplement with a convenient once daily dose.

  1. Polypodium Leucotomos
  2. Colourless Carotenoids
  3. Glutathione

Working via different pathways and mechanisms, the supplement maximises the following benefits

  • UVA and UVB protection
  • Whitening
  • Antioxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Anti-Aging

Glutathione? Whats that?

Oral glutathione has been extensively studied and is commonly used both topically and orally in many Asian countries for skin whitening and the treatment of pigmentation.

In the study "Glutathione and its antiaging and antimelanogenic effects", improvement in melanin (pigmentation), reduction in wrinkles and increase in skin elasticity was reported. In another study “Glutathione as an oral whitening agent: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study”, it was reported that “melanin indices decreased consistently at all six sites in subjects who received glutathione” with a decrease in the appearance of UV spots.

TLDR summary - Oral glutathione has been proven to be effective in skin lightening, pigmentation reduction and confers anti-aging benefits.

Conclusion

For those seeking a convenient, safe and effective way to increase UVR protection as well as looking to enjoy multiple benefits such as skin whitening, anti-aging and anti-oxidant, consider an oral sunblock supplement with Polypodium Leucotomos, Colourless Carotenoids and Glutathione as active ingredients!