Daily sunscreen use puts a brake on skin ageing

Sunscreen should be re-applied throughout the day, experts say. http://www.flickr.com/photos/tourofnilgiris

If fear of skin cancer was not enough, here’s another reason to slip, slop, slap: daily sunscreen use can dramatically slow the skin ageing process, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research and published in the journal the Annals of Internal Medicine, found that after four years of regular sunscreen use, conscientious sunblock users had no detectable signs of skin ageing.

“This has been one of those beauty tips you often hear quoted, but for the first time we can back it with science: protecting yourself from skin cancer by using sunscreen regularly has the added bonus of keeping you looking younger,” one of the authors of the study, Professor Adele Green said.

“And the study has shown that up to middle age, it’s not too late to make a difference.”

The study involved tracking 900 men and women aged less than 55 over four years.

Skin checks confirmed that those who used sunblock most days not only appeared not to age, they had 24 per cent less skin ageing than people who used sunscreen only some of the time.

The researchers also examined the effect beta-carotene supplements have on skin ageing, finding that they made no discernible difference but that more research was needed to conclusively rule out any beneficial or harmful effects.

Reapply often

Professor Ian Olver, Clinical Professor of Oncology at Cancer Council Australia, said the new study had yielded important results.

“Maybe this will resonate with more young people than some possibility of getting skin cancer in 20 years time,” he said.

“It’s well known that UV exposure does cause changes in the skin that cause premature ageing. I think it’s an important finding and adds another reason for sun protection when the UV index is high.”

Professor Olver said it was important to remember to reapply sunscreen throughout the day.

“Make-up with sunscreen in it sometimes has low levels of sun protection and women often put it on in the morning and then don’t reapply.”

Ageing is more than wrinkles

However, Professor Rodney Sinclair, Director of Dermatology at Epworth Hospital at the University of Melbourne, urged caution in reading the study’s results.

“You’ve got to be very careful in terms of interpreting the results of this research, because what they did is, they made impressions of the back of the hand and they studied them four and a half years later. They found that when they looked at the imprints of the back of the hand, in terms of fine lines and wrinkles, there was no further progression in skin ageing,” he said.

Professor Sinclair said skin ageing included not just the appearance of wrinkles, but also blotchy patches of redness, irregular pigmentation and sagging skin.

Professor Sinclair said the study was a good start but that further research was needed.

“Before people take this as the one and only treatment for skin ageing, what they’ve got to realise is that this study looks at the hands rather than the face and it looked at one component of skin ageing which is fine lines and wrinkles,” he said.

“At the end of the day, the most important thing about regular use of sunscreen is to prevent skin cancer.”