RESULTS of a world-first study has researchers looking into the creation of “super sunscreens” that could repair skin damaged by sunburn.
Queensland University of Technology researcher Elke Hacker has analysed the impact of sunscreen at a cellular level, finding it shields the important “superhero” gene TP53, which produces a protein that acts as a tumour suppressor.
The researchers hope to use the information for further research into the possibility of creating “super sunscreens” that would work to assist in the repair of damaged skin after a sunburn.
Dr Hacker, of QUT’s AusSun Research Laboratory, said the TP53 “wonder” gene played a key role in repairing sun-damaged DNA, and thereby preventing skin cancer.
“The problem is, the more times it gets called upon to fix the damage, the more likelihood it’s going to eventually not be up to the task and it mutates,” she said.
“Once a mutation occurs … skin cells can proliferate uncontrolled and unchecked and that’s the earliest stages of skin cancer.”
But in a study, published in the Pigment Cell and Melanoma Research journal, Dr Hacker and colleagues showed that sunscreen not only prevents the skin from reddening, but in a separate action, it also shields the TP53 gene.
Her research, funded by the Cancer Council Queensland, involved 57 healthy people aged between 18 and 34, who had a series of skin biopsies to determine molecular changes to the skin before and after ultraviolet light exposure, with and without sunscreen.
Researchers exposed two sites to a mild-burning dose of UV light. One site was protected with sunscreen, the other was not. Biopsies were taken at 24 hours and 14 days after exposure.
Dr Hacker said they found no DNA damage and no impact on the TP53 gene after 24 hours on the area where the sunscreen was applied. But cellular changes were identified in the unprotected patch of skin.
She said the sunscreen protected the cells involved in all three types of skin cancer – melanoma, squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas.
Dr Hacker said the research reinforced the importance of using sunscreen every day, particularly in Queensland, which has the highest skin cancer rates in the world.
She warned Queenslanders to be wary of the use-by dates of sunscreens and also to avoid storing it in hot cars.
“It’s very important that you read the sunscreen label and check at what temperature the sunscreen’s stable to,” Dr Hacker said.
“You may cause your sunscreen to be degraded by leaving it in the car.”