Internal Sunblocks

Did You Know…there are certain nutraceuticals that can block the sun from the inside out?

The sun has gotten a bad rap.  But increasingly, scientists are recognizing that sun exposure is vital for your body’s overall health and function.  Of course, it’s important to practice safe sun exposure, including stepping out into the sun SPF-free every day, in moderation.  That means 30 minutes for some and 10 minutes for others, depending on skin sensitivity and location.

Outside of that safe range, you want to make sure you’re protected from too much ultraviolet radiation.  Wearing protective clothing and applying sunblock are the most traditional protective strategies.  But you can also safeguard against the sun from the inside out by supplementing with specific sun-protective nutrients that protect you from the inside out.

Polypodium Leucotomos Extract (PLE) 

PLE, or cabbage palm fern, hails from Central America, and is marketed as an internal sunblock.

Two studies show that people who supplemented with PLE had fewer sunburn cells after being exposed to ultraviolet radiation.  UV light can trigger cell death, and PLE also appeared to strengthen resistance to this type of UV-induced cell death.

According to dermatologist Henry W. Lim, MD, FAAD, C.S. Livingood Chair and chairman of the department of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, PLE increases the amount of time you can spend in the sun before you burn.  European studies also indicate that PLE can reduce sun sensitivity in people who suffer polymorphous light eruption (a condition that causes the skin to develop a sun-induced rash).


Lycopene is the carotenoid that gives tomatoes their vibrant red color.  Lycopene is also found in red bell peppers, papaya, pink grapefruit, pink guava, and watermelon.  In fact, watermelons have 40% more lycopene than cooked tomatoes do!

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that lycopene also possesses sunbock properties.  Twenty-two men and women ate tomato paste containing 16 mg/d of lycopene and mixed with 10 grams of olive oil (the fat in olive oil helps the body’s uptake of lycopene).

After 4 weeks, there was no difference in UV light resistance… but after 10 weeks the volunteers were 40% less likely to be sunburned.

The University of Michigan Health System recommends taking 6 mg of lycopene a day, especially during prolonged periods out in the sun; however, the aforementioned study suggests that the sunblocking benefits of lycopene are best achieved with long-term, consistent use.


Astaxanthin is the carotenoid that gives shrimp and salmon its pink hue.  The microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis produces astaxanthin as a means of protecting itself from ultraviolet radiation, and those same benefits extend to humans when we ingest this powerful antioxidant.  However, for sun protection, you need more astaxanthin than you could safely consume from seafood.

The Cyanotech Corporation funded a study conducted by an independent consumer research lab to examine the effects of astaxanthin supplementation on sun protection.  After 3 weeks of taking 4 mg of astaxanthin a day, the amount of time it took for UV rays to redden skin significantly increased.

Staying Sun Safe

While each of these nutrients exhibits sun-protective properties, they don’t provide SPF levels comparable to those of topical sunscreens.  Experts estimate that these internal sunscreens provide a degree of protection on par with an SPF of 3-5.  So if you are sun sensitive or know you’ll be spending a day at the beach, shore up with both internal and topical sunscreens!