Numerous studies have shown that regular sunscreen use can prevent squamous cell carcinoma, but whether it's useful for preventing other skin cancers, such as melanoma, has remained controversial. New research published in the January 20 issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology provides convincing evidence that sunscreen is indeed effective for preventing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
Researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, randomly assigned 1,621 participants to two groups: sunscreen use, or discretionary use (which included no use). The first group was given an unlimited supply of broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 16 and was instructed to apply the product to their head, neck, arms, and hands each morning. Participants were also advised to reapply after bathing, heavy sweating, or prolonged sun exposure. People in the discretionary group were asked to continue using (or not using) sunscreen of any SPF as they always had.
Fifteen years after the start of the study, the researchers found half as many melanomas in the sunscreen group as in the control group (11 vs. 22, respectively), and an even greater difference in the number of invasive melanomas (3 vs. 11).
The results show that you can greatly reduce your risk of developing melanoma by regularly using sunscreen. However, sunscreen use is just one part of a more comprehensive sun protection strategy, which includes wearing a wide-brim hat, sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts and pants.
Source: "Reduced Melanoma After Regular Sunscreen Use: Randomized Trial Follow-Up." Adèle C. Green, et al. Journal of Clinical Oncology, Vol. 29 no. 3, pp 257-263 (2011).