Urgent appeal for volunteers to help solve sunscreen conundrum

Does wearing sunscreen prevent healthy vitamin D production? It’s a simple question that confuses many Australians as they try to balance the risks and benefits of sun exposure.

New research could finally provide some clear answers and advice – but first, researchers desperately need the help of volunteers from one end of the country to the other.

QIMR Berghofer’s Sun-D Trial is the first ever large trial to investigate the effect of applying SPF 50+ sunscreen on vitamin D, a hormone largely generated in the skin through sun exposure which is essential for bone health.

Lead researcher Professor Rachel Neale says they still need about 500 participants from Australia’s eastern states to sign up now to ensure the trial’s success.

“We know regular sunscreen use is vital to reducing the risk of skin cancer in Australia. We have the world’s highest rate of skin cancer with more than 15,000 people diagnosed with melanoma each year,” Prof Neale said.

“But lots of people are confused about how sunscreen will affect their vitamin D levels, and that causes them to either avoid sunscreen or spend too much time outdoors to try to get that balance.

“The Sun-D Trial will provide evidence-based advice so we can clear up confusion in the community and the medical profession, arming people with the right information to enjoy the sun safely.”

The researchers are appealing for participants from Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW to sign up for the one-year Sun-D Trial.

There is a specific need for male participants in Queensland, where the majority of sign-ups have so far been women. Researchers are also particularly eager for more volunteers in Victoria and Tasmania, the two Australian states with the highest prevalence of vitamin D deficiency.

“Residents in these states are still told to wear sunscreen on any day where the UV index is forecast to reach or exceed three – that’s actually most of the year,” Prof Neale said.

“We want to make sure this advice is not causing vitamin D deficiency in these states, so we really urge people from Victoria and Tasmania to sign up.”

Participants must be aged between 18 and 70, have fair or olive skin and not be taking more than 400 IU of vitamin D supplements each day.

Once signed up, they will randomly be sorted into two groups. One group will be given free sunscreen to apply every day, while the other will continue with their usual sun protection behaviour.

Participants will complete short monthly surveys, and provide three blood samples over the course of the trial so researchers can measure their vitamin D. They will be compensated $50 for each sample, in recognition of their time and effort.

For more information or to register interest, please visit www.qimrberghofer.edu.au/sund/ or call 1300 735 920.

To request a media interview with Professor Rachel Neale, please email media@qimrberghofer.edu.au or contact Jodie Stephens on 0427 179 216.