Sunscreen in a Pill May Help Prevent Sun Damage

ByABC News via via logo

July 22, 2006 — -- There's another weapon in the war against sunburn and skin cancer, and it comes in the form of a pill.

Heliocare, made from the extract of a tropical fern that has been used for generations in folk medicine to treat skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, is an herbal supplement that you can take daily to prevent sun damage.

Heliocare won't stop you from getting burned, but it will help you if do get burned, says Dr. Jessica Wu, a dermatologist in Los Angeles. So, you still need to wear sunscreen.

"It gets into your blood stream and works from the inside out, as opposed to sunscreen which works from the outside in," she said. "So this pill mops up the damage that gets past the sunscreen you might be wearing. It also repairs damage that is done to your skin that leads to skin cancer."

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and 1.3 million Americans are diagnosed each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"It's recommended you take it every morning before you go out," Wu said. "And if you're going to be in the sun, we recommend taking an additional pill about a half hour before you go into the sun. Maximum benefits are within two hours of taking the pill -- so if you're going to be in the sun for a long period of time, you may want to take another one after a few hours."

Although the pill has been available in Europe for years, this is the first summer that is widely available at major drug store chains in the United States. The extra protection doesn't come cheap: a bottles of 60 pills costs about $60.

The pill has not been studied in children under 18, so Wu recommends only adults take it. Those who are pregnant or nursing shouldn't take it either.

ABC News' Kate Snow reported this story for "Good Morning America."

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