A new study from Australia provides the strongest evidence yet that regular sunscreen use helps keep skin looking younger.
Though dermatologists have long believed that sunscreen fights wrinkling, the study, published Monday in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine,is the first to demonstrate it in a years-long human trial.
"It's a very important study," says Henry Lim, a dermatologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
The study of 903 adults under 55 found that after 41/2 years, those assigned to slather on sunscreen at least once a day saw 24% less skin aging -- at least on the back of their hands -- than those left to follow any sunscreen habits they liked. The study used a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15.
Until now, the best evidence that sunscreen prevents so-called photoaging (the visible signs of aging caused by the sun's ultraviolet rays) came from studies in hairless mice.
"It was a general assumption that sunscreen would have this effect on photoaging, but our findings now provide the evidence," says lead researcher Adele Green of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, who answered questions by e-mail.
Earlier research by Green's group has shown that sunscreen can protect against skin cancer. But experts suspect that the new evidence on aging may change more habits.
"Maybe sheer vanity will encourage young people to be proactive and use their sunscreen, because the cancer fear doesn't seem to be getting through to them," says Deborah Sarnoff, a dermatologist in New York City and a senior vice president at the Skin Cancer Foundation, a non-profit group that receives funding from sunscreen makers.
Experts stress it's also important to limit sun time and cover up with clothes and broad-brimmed hats.
Preventing cancer doesn't seem to be enough of a reason for many young people to
2009 photo by MARTIN BERNETTI, AFP/Getty Images
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