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Sun cream may not protect from skin cancer

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The sun’s out and after months in the grey the first thing we want to do is slip into a bikini and head for the sun lounger. But while you may think you and your children are safely smothered head to toe in factor 50 sun cream, new research has suggested we shouldn’t rely on this alone to protect us from deadly skin cancer.

Sun exposure well-known risk factor

Malignant melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with more than 13,000 people diagnosed each year. Sun exposure is a well-known risk factor for this deadly form of the disease. The new UK study on animals reveals more about how UV light leads to the creation of cancer in the skin cells and says sunscreen alone is not enough to protect us.

It should instead be combined with other preventative methods, such as wearing hats and sticking to the shade as much as possible.

Effects of UV light on mice

The exact process through which DNA cells in the skin are damaged by sun had been unclear until scientists at the University of Manchester looked at the effects of UV light on the skin of mice. They also examined the effects of sunscreen in preventing the formation of skin cancer.

The research found that UV light causes faults in the p53 gene which usually protects the body from the effects of DNA damage. While sunscreen can reduce the amount of that damage, it did not offer complete protection – “proof” that more protection is needed.

Lead researcher Professor Richard Marais said: “UV light targets the very genes protecting us from its own damaging effects, showing how dangerous this cancer-causing agent is. Very importantly, this study provides proof that sunscreen does not offer complete protection from the damaging effects of UV light. This work highlights the importance of combining sunscreen with other strategies to protect our skin, including wearing hats and loose fitting clothing and seeking shade when the sun is at its strongest.”

Sunburn a sign of DNA damage

Cancer Research UK says it is essential that people get into good habits where sun safety is concerned.

Dr Julie Sharp, the charity’s head of health information, said: “It’s essential to get into good sun safety habits, whether at home or abroad, and take care not to burn – sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged and, over time, this can lead to skin cancer.”

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