It's long been known in Chinese medicine that a certain plant chemical helps people with inflammatory skin disorders such as psoriasis. But recent studies show it can help protect against sun damage too, and that's giving dermatologists a new approach to prevention.
Marianela Angeles works in the beauty industry as a cosmetologist. But recently, she was too embarrassed to go to work without thick makeup.
"Oh, it was very bad; it was like in my cheeks, my chin, my forehead," said Marianela Angeles about her melasma that caused patches of dark pigment all over her face.
A few days at the beach, mixed with her olive skin tone and hormones, created those dark pigment patches.
But today, Marianela only uses a little powder as makeup, thanks to something called Heliocare, recommended by her dermatologist, Dr. Mary Lupo.
"It sort of neutralizes any of the ultraviolet damages that occurs in spite of the use of sunscreens," explained Dr. Lupo, a board certified dermatologist in New Orleans.
What's different about Heliocare is, it's not a sunscreen you rub on. It's a pill made from the extract of ferns.
"And what they found (in scientific studies) is that they can actually prevent some of the things that occur within the cells following ultraviolet light. So they can slow down the damage that occurs following ultraviolet light exposure," said Metairie board certified dermatologist Dr. Patricia Farris.
Heliocare, used with sunscreen, gives your skin and immune system more protection from damaging sunrays.
"We use it in patients, particularly in those patients who are prone to skin cancer, who have to do a lot of outdoor activity," said Dr. Farris.
"I primarily use it for patients who are distressed about excessive pigmentation on their face. Women with melasma are probably my most frequently prescribed for this medication," said Dr. Lupo.
Dr. Lupo used the prescription cream Tri-Luma to help fade Marianela's melasma, but now tells her wearing sunscreen, hats and taking the sun pill will prevent future problems.
"Everybody see [SIC] the change in my face and they are like, 'You [SIC] face looks excellent,'" said Angeles with a big smile.
A bottle of Heliocare runs anywhere from $23 to $36 and is sold in doctors' offices, drug stores, and on-line.
Editor's note: Dr. Patricia Farris is not related to medical reporter Meg Farris.