What to Know About ‘PLE,’ the Supplement That’s Quickly Becoming Spf’s Sidekick

We all know how important it is to wear sunscreen every day. And yet according to new research, only 11 percent of U.S. adults actually do it. What's more, the small number of people who are slathering themselves with the stuff on the reg, nearly two-thirds of them don't bother re-applying. “The number of times I get asked a week: ‘When are they going to create a pill to just protect my skin,’ is very high," says board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engleman, MD. And while we may not be there quite yet, thanks to an ingredient called polypodium leucotomos extract (or "PLE"), sun care is getting a pretty big boost.

PLE is a natural extract that comes from a South American fern, and is packed with antioxidants that help skin to naturally protect itself from UV damage. "We know that UV light creates free radicals, which are damaging to the skin, and PLE helps to protect against those free radicals," says Dr. Engleman. Free radical damage creates something called "oxidative stress" within the skin, and that is responsible for inflammation that creates everything from collagen degradation to hyperpigmentation.

According to board-certified dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, PLE has also been shown to reduce severity of sun allergy (known as polymorphous light eruption), and is thought to offer some level of protection against UVA rays, which is associated with premature aging [and skin cancer]. In addition, a 2015 study sponsored by Ferndale Healthcare® to study Heliocare® determined that taking 240 mg of the stuff twice a day for 60 days was a "safe and effective means for reducing the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation," and clinical trials conducted by ISDIN found that PLE protects against solar erythema—aka sunburns and redness—which helps prevent future problems like hyperpigmentation, accelerated photo aging, and collagen degradation. As board-certified dermatologist Mona Gohara, MD puts it, "It's great!" But—and this is a big but—derms agree that "it’s still not a substitute for sunscreen."

Even if you're taking PLE every day you should still be practicing other good sun-care habits—and that includes wearing sunscreen.

PLE has been around for a few years by way of a product called Heliocare ($30), but is becoming increasingly available as more brands begin to integrate it into their offerings. This month, ISDIN launched SunISDIN Soft Gel Capsules ($50), which Dr. Engleman calls a "turbo-boosted beauty vitamin" that "protects the skin from sun exposure."

"The skin is our main level of defense against the outside world, and obviously we want the strongest barrier to help fortify against all of the aggressors, whether that’s pollution, UV exposure, [or something else]," says Dr. Engleman. "We want that armor to be as strong and as fortified as possible in order to keep us healthy." As a bonus, well-functioning skin shows fewer signs of aging like brown spots and wrinkles, so as Dr. Engleman puts it, "healthier skin is more beautiful skin." But even if you're taking PLE every day you should still be practicing other good sun-care habits—and that includes wearing sunscreen.

"[PLE] doesn’t have enough SPF for it to be safe for full protection," she says. Instead, she wants people to think of it as the "safety net" for their topical routine. "As much as we want to hope that people follow all the rules of sun protection, the reality is that most people don’t reapply as often as they should, they don’t apply the right amount, or they miss spots." PLE, she explains, adds an underlying level of protection so that you'll be covered even on the (hopefully very rare) occasion that you forget to put on sunscreen, and on those oft-ignored spots like your scalp and eyelids.

"The thing with sun protection is that it’s not just one thing—it’s a whole myriad of behaviors that lead to the best skin," says Dr. Engleman. "This is part of that equation."

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