Credit: SunCal Solar

A new super sunscreen may be required to cut down Australia's 900 melanoma deaths per year. Scientists from the University of Queensland are investigating the effectiveness of highly protective sunscreens and whether a more potent version is needed.

Dr Elke Hacker said the study would be the first human trial examining the effect of sunlight on melanocytes; which are melanin-producing cells in the skin, and whether SPF-30-Plus sunscreen offered effective protection against damaging UV rays.

Melanocytes are the pigmented cells of the skin that give skin its colour and are also the precursors to melanoma, said Dr Hacker who is a post doctoral fellow with QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation.

We know that the risks of melanoma are far greater for fair-skinned people with more moles than those who have darker skin and fewer moles.

But what we don't know is what happens to melanocytes following exposure to sunlight and whether the use of sunscreen impacts on these melanocytes.

If conventional sunscreens were found to be not potent enough, the study could suggest the development of super sunscreens capable of boosting the protection of melanocytes, said Dr Hacker.

The study would also probe the way people of different skin types responded to sunlight, she said.

We will also be looking at whether sun exposure to melanocytes has a different response in fair skinned people compared to those who are more naturally tanned, said Dr Hacker.

The study seeks Brisbane-based recruits, which will involve a controlled exposure to the equivalent of 20 to 25 minutes of sunlight in Queensland.

Despite ongoing campaigns to reduce sun exposure and increase sunscreen usage, Dr Hacker said, more than 8,000 Australians were diagnosed with invasive melanoma every year.

By understanding how sunlight causes melanoma, we hope to develop more effective prevention strategies to control the disease.

For more information or participation in the study please dial 07 3138 0401 or email