There was a time when the choice of sunscreen boiled down to the lesser of evils, mineral rather than chemical sunscreen. Now, however, our choice has been expanded by a fern and it is in Helio Top 360 Sunscreen with SPF 50+ ($30). A key feature of Heliotop is an antioxidant plant that may prevent the severity of sunburn.
Unfortunately, the FDA does not recognize said fern, whose Latin name is polypodium leucotomos, as a bone fide sunscreen and so Heliotop had to resort to using the recognized minerals, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. When I first tested Heliotop 360, I found the white cast, typical of a mineral sunscreen, to be unacceptable. However, I was using it on skin that was rather dry as a result of having just completed a Dr. Dennis Gross Medi-Spa session. Subsequently, I tested in a number of situations and found that it works best over a moisturizer — although it requires careful application and a little rubbing in. My DuWop foundation works well over it.
Once I found it wearable, I can say it certainly protects and I am more than happy to give my support to a product that is trying to push sunscreens’ rather pitiful boundaries into antioxidant alternatives. So what about this fern, then?
Well, I came across it with Heliocare Supplements, launched by the same company a couple of years ago. There is but one clinical trial, conducted in 2004 and it was small. Yet it suggests that polypodium leucotomos can significantly reduce sunburn severity, may help prevent skin aging and decrease the risk of cancer from UV radiation. In a test on nine people with oral administration of PL, there were less sunburn cells and a trend toward Langerhans cell preservation was seen. Now that Heliocare has moved on from sunscreen in a pill to a more conventional lotion, I hope that there will be more research into this ingredient and its effects.
There has been some new information from the same research team claiming that the antioxidant capabilities of polypodium leucotomos was provided by ferulic and caffeic acids. I have certainly come across ferulic acid’s sun protection abilities in the past and am pleased to note that Heliotop has separately thrown some in the sunscreen for good measure. Other antioxidants include green tea and phyllanthus embilica, otherwise known as Indian gooseberry. I also like the inclusion of tetrahydrodiferuloymethane, a derivative of turmeric that is a skin whitener.
Although the good outweighs the bad, this sunscreen is not for those who prefer to avoid silicone and PEGs. And the heavy-handed mineral formula makes it better for sports or a day hiking or lying on a beach. I can only hope that one day there will be enough research to persuade the FDA that natural antioxidants can protect us without the need for minerals, which in addition to being cosmetically compromised, come with real safety concerns.