It’s Molecular: How Sunscreen Protects

We all know fewer sunburns mean less skin cancer. But how does that work exactly? A study to investigate the effect of sunlight on human skin has revealed that sunscreen protects on a molecular level.


Researchers at Australia’s Queensland University have shown that sunscreen gives protection against all three types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma), and that it also protects against UV-induced damage on a molecular level.

This discovery is important because it proves that sunscreens do more than prevent the redness of sunburn, and gives us insight into how it does so.

Here, an SPF30+ sunscreen, properly applied to exposed skin, prevented damage to a key anti-cancer gene known as p53. If damaged, the p53 gene can mutate in such a way that it no longer does its job of repairing the DNA of skin cells damaged by UV exposure. Once skin cells have DNA damage, there is a higher risk of skin cancer.

“After 24 hours, where the sunscreen had been applied, there were no DNA changes to the skin and no adverse impact on the p53 gene, “said Dr. Elke Hacker, lead researcher.

Published in the journal Pigment Cell & Melanoma Research, this study is saying, in other words, slather it on. Protect your p53.

Remember To Screen Your Skin

Before you go out in the sun, put on an SPF30 or above, broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. Reapply it every 2 hours. Adults should apply about half a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm, and to the face, neck and ears area, and just over one teaspoon to each leg, and one teaspoon each to front and back of the torso.

Also, don’t forget the benefits of sun-protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat. Get in the shade when you can, and choose wraparound sunglasses for best protection.

If you are only just starting to regularly protect your skin and would like to know what can be done to address existing sun damage, contact Zimmet Vein & Dermatology to schedule a free consultation.

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