What Is Polypodium Leucotomos?

Extract of this rainforest fern may help treat certain skin conditions

Polypodium Leucotomos capsules and powder

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Polypodium leucotomos is a fern that grows wild in the rainforest and has been used as a folk remedy in Central America for centuries. Orally administered Polypodium leucotomos extract may help prevent sunburn, relieve psoriasis, and treat the skin condition vitiligo. The plant's protective properties are believed to be due to its rich stores of antioxidants.

In Western medicine, commercial extracts of Polypodium leucotomos have been available since the 1970s. It is the primary ingredient in sun blocker supplements, such as Heliocare, Solaricare, Fernblock, and Shield d'Soliel.

Also Known As

  • Cabbage palm fern
  • Golden serpent fern

What Is Polypodium Leucotomos Used For?

Research on the health benefits of Polypodium leucotomos is limited to animal and test-tube studies, and small clinical trials. However, there is evidence to suggest it may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are helpful for treating certain skin conditions.

Here's a closer look at the research.


Preliminary studies suggest that Polypodium leucotomos may help prevent sunburn or reduce its severity.

A small study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in 2017 found an oral formulation of Polypodium leucotomos reduced skin damage from ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.

A 2016 literature review of Fernblock found it may prevent damage from both UVA and UVB rays, and may even help prevent skin cancer. The research focused on oral supplements, though the study authors noted that topical application of Polypodium leucotomos may also provide protection against photodamage and photoaging.

Larger trials are still needed to determine its effectiveness against sunburn and other sun damage to the skin, but it is believed to work because the fern's extract contains phytonutrients and powerful antioxidants that fight free radicals and prevent skin damage.

While Polypodium leucotomos shows promise in the prevention of sunburn and sun damage, it should not be used in place of proven sun protection measures, such as using sunscreen and avoiding sun exposure during the peak hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.


In alternative medicine, polypodium extracts have been used to treat psoriasis in Europe and Central and South America. Large, well-designed studies, however, are needed before it can be recommended as a treatment for this skin condition.

A 2004 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology examined whether Polypodium leucotomos could reduce the side effects of PUVA, a moderate-to-severe psoriasis treatment that involves the application of psoralen (a light-sensitizing medication) plus exposure to ultraviolet light A.

The small pilot study looked at PUVA alone compared with PUVA plus Polypodium leucotomos taken orally. The skin cells of the study participants were examined under a microscope, and those taking polypodium were found to have less skin damage compared with those taking the placebo.

While the research is promising, more studies are needed before Polypodium leucotomos can be recommended to prevent PUVA-related skin damage.


A 2007 study involving 50 people with vitiligo vulgaris compared the effectiveness of oral Polypodium leucotomos extract (250 milligrams three times per day) combined with narrow-band ultraviolet B treatment (twice weekly for 25 to 26 weeks) to narrow-band UVB treatment and a placebo.

Researchers found an increase in repigmentation in the head and neck area in the polypodium group compared to the placebo group. This effect was more pronounced in people with lighter skin.

A 2014 literature review published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology confirms these results. However, more research is needed before recommending Polypodium leucotomos for treating vitiligo.

Possible Side Effects

Polypodium leucotomos extract is generally well tolerated and safe with few side effects, according to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. Side effects may include indigestion and skin itchiness.

People with allergies to ferns should avoid taking products containing Polypodium leucotomos. In addition, its safety in pregnant or nursing women, children, and people with liver or kidney disease isn't known. If you or someone you care for are in one of these groups, speak to a doctor or pharmacist before using Polypodium leucotomos.

Selection, Preparation, & Storage

Commercial extracts of Polypodium leucotomos are primarily sold in capsule form and found, along with other ingredients, in many sun-blocking supplements. Polypodium leucotomos is sometimes combined with Polypodium decumanum and sold as the supplement calaguala.

Polypodium leucotomos supplements are available in natural food stores and online. There is currently no standard recommended dosage.

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). To ensure you are purchasing a quality Polypodium leucotomos supplement, look for a trusted independent, third-party seal on the label, such as U.S. Pharmacopeia, NSF International, or ConsumerLab.

Store supplements in a cool, dry place, away from heat and light, Do not use any supplement past its expiration date.

Forms of Polypodium leucotomos can occasionally be found in skincare products and sunscreens, but a topical extract is not currently available on its own.

Common Questions

Does Polypodium leucotomos prevent suntans?
While the research is still inconclusive, extracts of the tropical fern show promise for preventing sunburn. The impact on tanning, however, is unclear. Taking Polypodium leucotomos prior to sunbathing or spending time at the beach could theoretically slow tanning time. However, it is too soon to recommend using the plant before spending time in the sun.

Can Polypodium leucotomos prevent wrinkles?
In theory, antioxidants in Polypodium leucotomos should help prevent wrinkles and other visible signs of sun-damaged skin. However, this has not been confirmed in clinical trials. More research is needed.

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