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In addition to preventing three types of skin cancer, Queensland researchers have discovered that sunscreen shields a ‘superhero’ p53 gene that repairs UV damaged skin.
Scientists performed the world’s first molecular level human study of the impact of sunscreen confirmed that sunscreen provides 100 percent protection against all three forms of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. Skin biopsies also confirmed that sunscreen shields the p53 gene, also known as the tumor suppressor gene.
The p53 gene is responsible for proteins that can either repair damaged cells or cause damaged cells to die. However, exposure to UV can mutate the p53 gene, thus rendering it from functioning properly.
“As soon as our skin becomes sun damaged, the p53 gene goes to work repairing that damage and thereby preventing skin cancer occurring,” said lead researcher Dr. Elke Hacker, from Queensland University of Technology’s AusSun Research Lab. “But over time if skin is burnt regularly the p53 gene mutates and can no longer do the job it was intended for – it no longer repairs sun damaged skin and without this protection skin cancers are far more likely to occur.”
Fifty-seven people who participated in the study underwent a series of skin biopsies to examine molecular changes to the skin before and after UV exposure. First, the researchers took small skin biopsies of each participant’s unexposed skin. Then, a mild does of UV light was exposed to two skin spots on each participant, but sunscreen was applied only to one spot. After 24 hours, another set of skin biopsies were taken.
“After 24 hours, we took another set of biopsies and compared the skin samples,” Hacker said. “What we found was that, after 24 hours, where the sunscreen had been applied there were no DNA changes to the skin and no impact on the p53 gene.”
Hacker concludes that the study could be used to help develop post-sun exposure treatments that can repair sun-damaged skin, such as super sunscreens.
As always, remember to wear sunscreen and reapply every two hours.