Well, I’ve been saying this to my patients for years: Daily sunscreen use prevents the ugly results of photo-aging (spots, roughness and wrinkles caused by years of cumulative sun exposure which speeds up your skin’s natural aging process) and finally a study published in a June issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine entitled, “Sunscreen and Prevention of Skin Aging,” has proven this to be true.
Studies have already proven that sunscreen prevents skin cancer, but previous studies on photo-aging had always been done on mice so this new study performed on over 900 white people in Australia under the age of 55 and measured over 4 years just confirms what we dermatologists have been saying to our patients:
“If you want to keep spots and wrinkles at bay, use sunscreen every day.”
Initially, the researchers weren’t sure exactly what effect regular comprehensive use of sunscreen would have on skin aging caused by the sun over the years and they were also curious about the effect of taking dietary antioxidants such as β-carotene supplements to delay skin aging so they tested both.
The study was broken randomly into 4 sunscreen use groups:
- Specific daily use of broad-spectrum (protects against both UVA & UVB rays) sunscreen of SPF 15 applied to head, neck, arms, and hands each morning and after bathing, after spending more than a few hours in the sun, or after sweating heavily and 30 mg of β-carotene.
- Specific daily use (as described above) of the broad-spectrum SPF 15 sunscreen and placebo.
- Use of broad-spectrum SPF 15 sunscreen at the discretion of the participant and 30 mg of β-carotene.
- Use broad-spectrum SPF 15 sunscreen at the discretion of the participant and placebo.
Photos were taken of the backs of participants’ hands at the beginning of the study and 4.5 years later and were examined for microscopic changes of skin aging by researchers without the knowledge of which study groups the participants had been assigned.
The sunscreen use findings:
Interestingly, not all of those in the daily use group applied their sunscreen daily as directed. But more participants assigned to the daily sunscreen use group reported applying sunscreen at least 3 to 4 days each week compared to the participants in the discretionary-use group. Those in the daily-use group were 24% less likely to have increased skin aging after 4.5 years than were those in the discretionary-use group.
No overall effect of taking β-carotene supplements on skin aging was found.
My advice: If you want to prevent discolorations, spots and wrinkles from forming due to cumulative exposure to the sun’s rays as you age, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen (and make sure it specifies so on the label) daily of at least SPF 15 whenever you are outside and exposed to the sun. Also, seek the shade whenever possible and wear a broad-brimmed floppy hat and sun glasses to protect facial skin and your eyes!