A new study published in Annals of Internal Medicine has found that sunscreen really is effective at slowing down the ageing process.

The study, which was carried out for 4 years and in over 900 participants under 55 years of age, found that regular sunscreen use protects against photoageing.

Some of the participants were given sunscreen and fully informed about the best way in which to use it, while the control group was not given any special instructions with their sunscreen.

As a result, the first group — who applied sunscreen on a daily basis — was 24% less likely to show new signs of ageing after 4 years.

Commenting on the study results, lead author Dr Adele Green of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research said: ‘We now have the scientific evidence to back the long-held assumption about the cosmetic value of sunscreen. Regular sunscreen use by young and mid-aged adults under 55 brings cosmetic benefits and also decreases the risk of skin cancer.’

This is the first study that has quantified the anti-ageing properties of sunscreen, while previous studies had focused on the effects of sunscreen in reducing the incidence of skin cancer.

All participants were given sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15+. Half were instructed to apply the sunscreen daily to exposed areas, reapplying after water immersion, heavy sweating or a few hours spent outdoors, while half were told to use it as they normally would.

By the end of the study 77% of those told to use sunscreen daily were using it at least 3–4 days per week, compared with 33% of the control group.

Researchers took silicone impressions of the backs of participants’ hands at the beginning of the study and after 4.5 years. Evaluators then graded the patterns of lines and skin coarseness on the hand impressions on a scale of one to six.

The damage seen on the surface of the skin reflects tissue damage underneath the skin. They found reduced skin damage from UV rays, which also translates to a lower risk of skin cancer.