A new study has revealed that we can’t rely on sun cream to combat skin cancer, the fastest growing form of cancer in the UK.

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Scientists in Manchester and London at the Institute of Cancer Research conducted a groundbreaking study into the way malignant melanomas (the deadliest form of skin cancer) are caused and have revealed that long-lasting skin damage caused by UV rays cannot be stopped by wearing sunscreen. The study showed that even when wearing SPF 50 - the highest grade of sun protection, enough UV radiation to permanently damage the DNA in the skin’s pigment cells was able to permeate.

While sunscreens can, when worn sufficiently, prevent sunburn and the short-term effects of sunbathing, they still allow enough rays through to cause a potentially fatal disease. Dr Julie Sharp, of Cancer Research UK highlighted that the main problem is that “people tend to think they’re invincible once they’ve put (sunscreen) on and end up spending longer out in the sun, increasing their overall exposure to UV rays.”

The crucial finding of the study was the discovery that sunscreen could not stop solar radiation causing a mutation in the skin’s ‘guardian gene’ otherwise known as P53. This gene normally works by releasing a protein that protects the skin from the damaging effects of UV light. However, scientists found that intense solar radiation in fact knocked out the gene and left the skin more vulnerable to sun damage and thus more likely to develop into a tumour.

With 75,000 new cases every year - levels that are three times higher than they were during the 1970s - we’re clearly not as clued up about the disease as we need to be. However, perhaps the results are just the information that’s needed to get the British public out of the hot sun and into cold, hard reality.

Professor Marais of the study concluded: “Essentially this work highlights the importance of combining sunscreen with other strategies to protect our skin, including wearing hats, loose fitting clothing and seeking shade between 11am - 4pm, when the sun is at its strongest.”

Ideally sunscreen would be the third line of defence to keep ourselves adequately protected from the sun, not the first and only. It’s official, then: it’s cool to stay in the shade.