Sunscreens are touted to protect your skin from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. However scientists are now studying whether a good sunscreen protects your skin even after your skin is no longer exposed to the sun? This study is undertaken because of the alarming rise in malignant melanoma, a form of skin cancer that is linked to the sun’s UV rays. Malignant melanoma is the most common cancer in Australia and Queensland tops all other places in the world when it comes to incidence of this skin cancer.
According to Dr Elke Hacker, from QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, a sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30+ offers protections from about 96-97 per cent of ultraviolet radiation. She says, "What we're interested to see is what is happening to your skin cells after sun exposure and using sunscreen…We want to see if we can put additional drugs... in there that will actually inhibit your cells' increased activation after sun exposure that's going to prevent the cancers down the track rather than just protect you from sunburn...What we'd like to do is add additional drug... compounds into [sunscreen] that are actually shown to protect [cells] from turning into cancers or being a highly proliferative growth."
With the study a new “super” sunscreen may be manufactured although it may take some years before this super sunscreen is available for use. Dr. Hacker says, "We'd like to see the adaption of a two-pronged approach in sunscreens…one protecting you from the sun's harmful radiation and the other targeted at actual processes of the cells when they get activated by the sun or sun damage." She and her colleagues are working towards making this new sunscreen a reality. The research would also probe the way people with different skin types responded to sunlight, she said. "We will also be looking at whether sun exposure to melanocytes has a different response in fair skinned people compared to those who are more naturally tanned," Dr Hacker said.
She has asked for healthy 18 to 30-year-olds to help her with this research by volunteering. These volunteers she said will receive small doses of simulated ultraviolet radiation to 8mm square areas of their body, about equivalent to 20-25 minutes in the sun. "The risks are really controlled and minimised by the small area that we're dosing compared to what they'd get when they live their normal life," says Dr Hacker. The volunteers will need to show up for five such visits to the AusSun Research Lab based at IHBI at QUT's Kelvin Grove campus between May and June.
The Queensland Cancer Council which is supporting the new research also warns that probably the simplest way to avoid cancer is to minimize exposure to the sun.