Self Care Pharmacy Blog


Sunscreen: Are You Protecting Yourself Againist Aging Skin?

October 7th, 2013

By Aaron Le Poire, PharmD Student Cedarville University

We have often sought healthy and youthful complexions throughout history.  One way people have tried to prevent aging is by using creams and lotions to protect themselves from wrinkling and the damaging effects of the sun on the skin.1,2 Exposure to the harmful A and B ultraviolet components of sunlight is one of the leading causes of skin aging and skin cancer.3,4  One of the most common ways used to prevent the aging of skin from the sun is sunscreen.5

Recently, a news article from USA Today was published lauding the benefits of sunscreen based on a study issued in the Annals of Internal Medicine.6 The study, which followed hundreds of people over a four and a half year period, found 24% less skin aging in people who regularly applied sunscreen.7 The researchers studied people who were less than 55 years old because their skin-aging is primarily from the sun and not due to their age.  The study made replicas of the skin on the back of the subject’s hands in order to measure the deterioration of the skin at the beginning and end of the trial.  The study concluded that the regular use of sunscreen by young and middle-aged adults could slow down the aging of their skin from the sun.7

There are other studies that support the same opinion that sunscreen can limit the effects of aging from the sun.8,9  Studies have found sun exposure can damage skin and can be avoided by protecting oneself from harmful UV rays.10 The FDA also suggests that skin aging and cancer can be avoided by the use of sunscreen.11 The difference between this study and others is this particular one actually put those findings to the test in a large-scale trial examining many subjects over a long period of time.  The study was also completed in a sunny part of Australia that is as close to the equator as Florida.6

One of the limitations of the study was one-third of the people enrolled in the study only completed one reading of their skin, usually the first time.  Another limitation of the study could be the use of lotions or moisturizers by the subjects to protect their skin affecting how much it deteriorated over time.  Using less effective sunscreen than what is on the market today is also another limitation of the study.  More research needs to be done to see if newly developed sunscreens help even more with the aging of skin.  There are some studies that could suggest the chemicals in sunscreen could be harmful to the body.  One study found some ingredients in sunscreen to cause genetic damage in mice, but this has not been tested in humans.12 Another study found sunscreen use tied to increased free radicals in the body, which could lead to an increased risk for cancer.13

The trial had a solid study design, as it was a randomized, controlled, clinical trial.  Along with the study design, the location of the study and efforts by the researchers to make sure the people enrolled were complying with the design make the results even more pertinent.  Any study longer than the one in the article is unlikely to be implemented because it would be considered unethical to keep people from using sunscreen for such long periods of time.6

The practice of sun protection as laid out by the FDA includes reducing time in the sun, wearing appropriate clothing such as hats, long pants, sunglasses, and long sleeve shirts.11 Another recommendation is the use of sunscreen.  The sunscreen used should be at least 15 SPF, which is what was used in the study.  It is also recommended to use a water resistant and “broad spectrum” sunscreen that protects against the different types of UV radiation from the sun.  Make sure to apply it evenly to all exposed skin at least 15 minutes before going out and reapply at least every 2 hours.11

Protecting your skin from the sun is very important, not only for it’s appearance but also for preventing the risk of skin cancer.  Sunscreen is one easy way to protect your skin from both aging and cancer.  Studies have shown the effectiveness of sunscreen for protection against UV radiation.8 The study mentioned in the article delivers confirmation of the benefits regular use of sunscreen can have on the aging of your skin over a prolonged time period.

So, do you think this trial provides enough evidence for the beneficial effects of sunscreen? Or do you think sunscreen has too many harmful effects?  Does this evidence change your opinion on how you will use sunscreen in the future?




[1] Brandt FS, Cazzaniga A, Hann M . Cosmeceuticals: current trends and marker analysis. Semin Cutan M ed Surg. 2011;30:141-3. [PMID: 21925366]


[2] Yaar M , GUchrest BA. Aging of skin. In: Freedberg IM, Eisen AZ, Wolff K, Austen KF, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, et al, eds. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine. 5th ed. New York: McGraw Hill; 1999:1697-706.


[3] Rabe JH, Mamelak AJ, McElgunn PJ, Morison WL, Sauder DN. Photoag- ing: mechanisms and repair. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006;55:l-19. [PMID:



[4] Foote JA, Harris RB, Giuliano AR, Roe DJ, Moon TE, Cartmel B, et al. Predictois for cutaneous basal- and squamous-cell carcinoma among actinically damaged adults. Int J Cancer. 2001;95:7-ll. [PMID: 11241303]


[5] Antoniou G, Kosmadaki MG, Stradgos AJ, KaKambas AD. Photoaging: prevention and topical treatments. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2010;l 1:95-102. [PMID: 20141230]


[6] Painter K.  Regular sunscreen use slows skin aging, study shows.  USA Today. June 3, 2013.


[7] Hughes MC, Williams GM, Baker P, Green AC. Sunscreen and prevention of skin aging: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158(11):781-90.


[8] Gilchrest, B.A.  A review of skin ageing and its medical therapy. Br. J. Dermatol. 1996;135: 867–875.


[9] Naylor, M.F. & K.C. Farmer.  The case for sunscreens: a review of their use in preventing actinic damage and neoplasia. Arch. Dermatol. 1997;133: 1146–1154.


[10] Taylor CR, Stern RS, Leyden JJ, Gilchrest BA. Photoaging/photodamage and photoprotection. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1990;22(1):1-15.


[11] FDA. Sun safety: save your skin! FDA website. 2012 available at Accessed October 1, 2013.


[12] Trouiller B, Reliene R, Westbrook A, Solaimani P, Schiestl RH. Titanium dioxide nanoparticles induce DNA damage and genetic instability in vivo in mice. Cancer Res. 2009;69(22):8784-9.


[13] Hanson KM, Gratton E, Bardeen CJ. Sunscreen enhancement of UV-induced reactive oxygen species in the skin. Free Radic Biol Med. 2006;41(8):1205-12.

7 Responses to “Sunscreen: Are You Protecting Yourself Againist Aging Skin?”

  1. Caleb Lyman Says:

    Sunscreen’s side effects don’t really concern me but I only use it occasionally. The study is rather impressive but I need to see some more data before I depend on sunscreen to keep my skin young. If this is proven true it will have quite an impact on the sunscreen industry.

  2. Melody Says:

    Caleb- what aspects of the study lead you to that opinion…what else do you want to know to make it proven? Dr.Hartzler

  3. Caleb Lyman Says:

    I think Aaron brought up some valid limitations of the study, which leads to it not being generalizable. If more studies were to be run in other locations and using different “strengths” of sunscreen, I would be very interested to see those results.

  4. Gina Mattes Says:

    I agree with Aaron and Caleb, this study does have some strong limitations, which makes it questionable whether or not this study is really valid. The study was impressive, but I agree with Caleb in that it needs to have a wider scope on the sunscreens tested. I think that side effects of using them are not really that different than from not using sunscreen. Aaron states that in one study it proved that sunscreen could increase the risk of cancer because of the increased risk of free radicals in the body, but aren’t you using the sunscreen to prevent cancer? Either way it seems like you are out of luck, but I do not think that will change the fact that I think people should still use sunscreen to prevent getting skin cancer. Whether or not I would tell people to use it to help them look younger is different.

  5. Chelsae Ward Says:

    Personally, my parents raised me using sunscreen. I would often be told to apply it even if just going outside for some time on a summer’s day. Because of this, even today, I still use sunscreen when spending extended amounts of time outdoors. For me, the risk of skin cancer is much greater than having to worry about aging skin. Don’t get me wrong, premature aging would not be fun, but developing a skin cancer because I did not wear sunscreen would be quite upsetting.
    It is interesting though, that you mention studies that show that the ingredients in sunscreen can themselves cause cancer. That seems a bit ironic. It would be nice to see more evidence for this case.
    Despite this fact, I will continue to use sunscreen and suggest that others do as well. Often with bad sunburns, the effects are long lasting and one can see the direct harm that it causes to skin. If sunscreen can help protect from that damage then I would say it’s worth it.
    One last thing. I would like to know if there are any sunscreens that contain “natural” products. Products that are known to be safe for the skin and that won’t cause future harm. I think that this would be worth looking into.

  6. Cara Toms Says:

    I am a strong believer in using sunscreen to prevent skin damage by uv rays. Personally, I agree with chelsea and that the prevention of skin cancer is so important. I do believe more evidence and studies need to be done to show all the benefits and limits to using sunscreen. I know a lot of people are against the use of tanning beds, but really the sun rays can be just as harmful, especially if you are in the sun for long periods of time. Heat and light are used in many chemical reactions and just because you have skin doesn’t mean you are protected. I think in a clinical trial like this one, the researchers would have to be extra careful in limiting the use of other skin products in the subjects. If they kept using their morning moisturizing wash or anti-aging cream along with the sunscreen, this could be a huge threat to validity of the study.

  7. Heather E. Says:

    I have grown up always using sunscreen. It is apart of my everyday skin routine and will continue to be until there is strong evidence against its benefits. I would definitely recommend others to do the same. I’m glad you included the importance of reapplying sunscreen in your article. It would be interesting to see there is any research on whether or not people actually reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours.

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