Hugh Jackman Urges People to Use Sunscreen: Does It Protect Against Skin Cancer?

The evidence is not as strong as we would like to believe.

3 min read

"My biopsies came back negative!!! Thank you ALL for the love. I feel it!", posted Australian actor Hugh Jackman, after a recent medical check-up.

Jackman had his first skin cancer removed in 2013, and has since had at least six procedures. The actor repeated his message on skincare – "Please remember to wear sunscreen with a high level of SPF, no matter the season".

Not just Jackman, if there's one holy grail skincare advice that everyone agrees on, it is: WEAR SUNSCREEN.

Why? Because UV rays from the sun can damage your skin, and cause sunburns, which is a leading cause for skin cancer like melanoma. 

However, do we know if sunscreen actually protects you against skin cancer? Scientific evidence isn't as strong as we would like to be. 

Skin Cancer, Sunscreens, and South Asian Skin

According to a review study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, there are very few long term studies that examine sunscreen’s role in preventing skin cancer. And, none of these studies look at the efficacy of sunscreen in preventing skin cancer in otherwise healthy individuals.

Now just to be clear, we're not trying to argue against the use of sunscreens. 

It's been proven quite extensively that sunlight can damage the skin, and cause wrinkling, photoaging, sagging, and pigmentation among other issues, and it makes sense to protect yourself.

However, do we know whether sunscreens work on South Asian skin? There's very little evidence to back this.

Speaking to FIT, Dr Chaitanya Singh, a clinical and cosmetic dermaologist based in Delhi says, "If we talk about the role of sunscreen in skin cancer, the data is scarce, and the reason is that skin cancer itself is rare in India."

"To publish a reliable study, you need to have a good sample size, and we don't have that in India which must be why we don't have research specifically for sunscreen in skincancer or melanoma in India."
Dr Chaitanya Singh, dermatologist

This doesn't mean that dark skinned people don't get skin cancer. Skin cancer can occur in people of all skin types.

But if we look at the data, compared to global statistics, skin cancer is relatively rare in India compared to other parts of the world, with an estimated incidence rate of 0.5 - 1.5 percent of all cancers.

"One major reason for this could be the higher levels of melanin present in our (brown) skin. It protects us from UV damage, and protects our DNA from the damaging affects of the sunlight."
Dr Chaitanya Singh, dermatologist

So, what we need is more robust research to know if the shield we think is safeguarding us from the skin cancer is actually doing a good job of it.

When and How to Use Sunscreen

Finally, here are some things to keep in mind while choosing a sunscreen:

"First, you have to figure out what your skin type is," says Dr Singh.

"If you have dry skin, go for a cream based sunscreen, if you have oily or acne-prone skin, then go for a gel based one," he adds.

"If you have sensitive skine, a Hypoallergenic sunscreen is your best bet."
Dr Chaitanya Singh

Other things to keep in mind are,

  • Apply sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before stepping out.

  • Reapply your sunscreen every couple of hours.

  • If you are spending a lot of time outdoors, go for an SPF50 sunscreen.

  • If you are likely to spend most of your time indoors, an SPF of 30 is good enough.

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Topics:  Cancer   Skin Cancer   Sunscreen 

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