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Pomegranate: Nature's Oldest Ultraviolet Protection

By: Howard Murad, MD
Posted: June 23, 2008, from the June 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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Due to the powerful benefits of pomegranate extract, it could play a significant role in protecting the skin from all types of environmental damage—specifically, ultraviolet rays. To prove this theory, I conducted an independent pilot study with William V. R. Shellow, MD, to determine the effect of pomegranate extract in improving the sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreens.

The independent laboratory tested the effect of pomegranate extract on the SPF of volunteers. Eight subjects, including five females and three males between the ages of 18–60 with fair to medium skin types, used pomegranate extract orally and topically. First, researchers tested each subject’s minimal erythema dose (MED)—the measurement set by the FDA that tests SPF. Next, the subjects applied four formulas of standard SPF 4 and SPF 8 lotions with and without pomegranate extract, and the MED was assessed. They also tested pomegranate extract daily for five days under supervision. Afterward, the subjects were tested again for MED. Based on this research, adding pomegranate extract boosted the SPF of the sunscreen formula by 20%. In addition, ingesting a tablet of standardized pomegranate extract provided an additional 25% improvement in the SPF.

Topical application

My studies on the effects of pomegranate extract began in the early 1990s with publishing research in cosmetic dermatology. Around the same time, pomegranate extract began to pique the interest of university scientists. In October 2000, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry covered research by a team from South Dakota University who reported that, when applied topically on mice, pomegranate oil inhibited the incidence and activity of papillomas, or benign epithelial tumors.

In the fall of 2003, researchers at the University of Wisconsin evaluated pomegranate’s prevention of skin tumors by comparing topical application of pomegranate extract on neonatal mice against TPA-induced markers (12-0-tetradecanoylphorbol-13-acetate), a strong promoter of chemically induced skin cancer. According to the research, applying pomegranate extract onto the skin of neonatal mice 30 minutes prior to TPA application significantly inhibited TPA-mediated increases in skin edema and hyperplasia.

The researchers also tested pomegranate extract on TPA-induced skin tumor promotion. The animals pre-treated with pomegranate extract showed substantially reduced tumor incidence and lower tumor body burden. In the TPA-treated group, all the mice developed tumors at 16 weeks, whereas only 30% of those treated with pomegranate extract exhibited tumors at that point.

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