Today the media is reporting on a new study by scientists at Manchester University and London's Institute of Cancer Research that has provided more information about the sun's damaging effects on the skin. The study includes consideration of the role that sunscreens play in helping to protect against skin cancer.
What does the research say?
The study was carried out to enable scientists to learn more about the way malignant melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is caused. It investigated the effects of UV rays on the specific cells in the skin (called melanocytes) that make melanin (the skin's natural pigment). The key findings were published in the journal, Nature.
As part of the study, scientists looked at the cells with or without having applied an SPF 50 sunscreen with UVA protection. While the protected and unprotected skin cells both eventually showed damage after the UV radiation, the cells in the skin protected with sunscreen were not damaged as quickly.
It is extremely interesting research because it is important to understand as much as possible about the effects of the sun on our skin, especially at the cell level, in order to find out the best ways of combatting them.
Staying sun safe
While the authors of the study acknowledge that their work validates public health campaigns that promote sunscreen protection for individuals at risk of melanoma, the research is an important reminder that sunscreens should never be used in isolation nor to prolong time spent in the sun. Sunscreens cannot offer 100% protection. They cannot 'block' the sun or protect fully against its damaging effects.
It is important to have a holistic sunsafe regime, only part of which is sunscreens: Wear loose-fitting clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses; seek shade, particularly between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is usually at its most intense; drink plenty of water; take extra care to keep babies out of the sun; and use sunscreen.
Dr Chris Flower, Former Director-General of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association and a Chartered Biologist and toxicologist, says: "As cosmetic producers we never talk about cancer in relation to the product - we cannot talk about protecting against or stopping disease.
"We never recommend that sun care products should be used to stay out in the sun longer, only as part of 'sun safe' behaviour, which includes staying out of the sun during the hottest part of the day, and covering up.
"We cannot use the term 'sunblock' or anything that suggest there is 100 per cent protection. We cannot say 'total protection', the strongest term we can use is 'very high' protection.
'The first line of defence is to avoid sun, the second is to cover up with a sunhat, T-shirt and trousers, and the third line of defence is to use a sunscreen."