Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Sunscreen Prevents Precancerous Spots

Daily Sunscreen Use Fights Early Signs of Skin Cancer
WebMD Health News

April 21, 2003 - Applying sunscreen every day rather than only on sunny ones makes a big difference when it comes to fighting the first signs of skin cancer. A new study shows that daily use of sunscreen is much more effective than sporadic use in preventing precancerous skin growths called solar keratoses or SKs.

The skin lesions are the earliest forms of the most common types of skin cancer caused by sun exposure, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. People who have SKs are up to 12 times more likely to develop these forms of skin cancer than others.

Despite these risks, researchers say little is known about sunscreen's role in preventing these early markers of skin cancer. In this study, researchers compared the effects of daily versus occasional use of sunscreen use in reducing the number of SKs in 1,621 adults living in Queensland, Australia from 1992 to 1996.

One group was instructed to apply a water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 16 each morning to their head, neck, arms, and hands, and the other group was told to use sunscreen at their own discretion.

People who used sunscreen daily developed significantly fewer SKs than the occasional sunscreen users, and the protective effects of daily sunscreen use were especially strong in the first two and a half years of the study.

For example, the increase in SK counts from 1992 to 1994 in the group that used sunscreen daily was about 24% lower than the increases found in the occasional-use group. Researchers say that reduction is equivalent to preventing one precancerous growth per person over the four-year study.

The findings appear in the April issue of the Archives of Dermatology.

But researcher Steven Darlington and colleagues from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia say their study may actually have underestimated the protective effects of sunscreen in preventing skin cancer because it didn't compare daily sunscreen use to not using sunscreen at all. Due to the well-known risks of skin cancer in a subtropical environment such as Australia, researchers opted to allow their comparison group to use sunscreen as they would normally.

Dermatologist Arielle Kauvar, MD, says these findings are encouraging because the protective effects of sunscreen in reducing skin cancer risk were especially dramatic in people that were younger or tanned easily.

"That tells us if you start using sunscreen on a regular basis when you're young or before you have any visible skin damage that it will have a better effect," Kauvar tells WebMD. "But it also had an effect on people with preexisting damage."

1 | 2 | 3

Today on WebMD

Malignant melanoma
About 40-50 percent of those who live to be 65 may get it. Here’s how to spot early.
Woman checking out tan lines
There’s a dark side to that strive for beauty. See them here.
sauteed cherry tomatoes
Fight cancer one plate at a time.
Lung cancer xray
See it in pictures, plus read the facts.
12 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Melanoma
precancerous lesions slideshow
Do You Know Your Melanoma ABCs
15 Cancer Symptoms Men Ignore
screening tests for men
Vitamin D
Is That Mole Skin Cancer
Brilliant sun rays