I rubbed suncream into a door…It was, quite possibly, the highlight of my career

It was quite possibly the highlight of my career so far

One sexy door. The dirty side of science no one sees

I know, dear reader. You have many questions, I shall try to answer them. Yes this really did happen. Yes it was on purpose. No I wasnt institutionalized. Yes I should have been.

Recently we published the next chapter in our lab’s sun safety work, which can be found here (shameless plug). Originally undertaken by one of our former MRes students turned-medic, Lizzie wanted to find out whether the SPF in moisturiser provided the same level of protection as suncreams of the same SPF. After Lizzie finished and headed to med-school, I took over the recruitment and data collection, which involved some of the bizarrest (is that a word? Dunno, it is now. Hit me up Oxford Dictionary) optimisation I have done during my PhD.

I dont know if any you dear readers have ever tried to measure out suncream and moisturiser, two substances notorious for being thick and creamy, but this proved to be our first hurdle. After a set of lab scales, some determination, and a now unusable spoon, we successfully measured out equal amounts of both for a side-by-side comparison of UV protection. This is where things started to get weird. My supervisor Kevin and I then spent a significant amount of our lives trying to draw 1″ x 1″ squares on each others arms. This provided a chance for some much needed arts and crafts time, and helped me and Kevin develop a special artistic bond. We quickly realised that twe needed a lot more space than our measly forearms and biceps could provide. Another major pitfall we encountered was finding an appropriate pose we could hold for long enough to image with our UV-sensitive camera (See below).

Bewildered, confused, and a little creamy. We were stumped! Then our eurika moment hit. Enter our Baywatch extra, David Hassel-door.

A solid slab of flat, immovable wood. The endless possibilities. We powered on through the carpel tunnel and rubbed our moisturiser (bottom) and suncream (top) into our new recruit. After endless tears and muscle aches, our model was ready. David Hassel-door struck the pose and we used our UV detection camera to see how well protected Mr Hassel-door was. We observed that the more suncream and moisturiser we apply, the better the protection (shock horror), but what we did find was that the suncream, on the door at least, provided a better UV protection.

But these finding were difficult to draw conclusions from. I do not class myself as an expert dermatologist, but surely wood had different absorption qualities to the skin of organisms that typically apply suncream (i.e. Humans). But thats what the Hamill lab are guinea pigs for! Taking the a range of SPF protection volumes, we compared suncream vs moisturiser some other hapless models (Lee and Conro), half-covered in suncream, half-covered in moisturiser. Here we found that unlike the door, there was no real difference between the left and right side of our faces. But at least we got to live out the dream of applying suncream to each others bodies. Well my dream at least.

Can you tell which side is moisturiser and which side is suncream?!

This part of the study was important, we needed to be sure that when we interpreted the images we could draw meaningful conclusions. Most of the time as a scientist is getting experiments to work the way we need them to, it just so happens that this particular optimisation turned into a hilarious day of soul searching and asking what are we doing? Rubbing sunscreen into a door?! Of course we are. SCIENCE!

But, in the end the results justify the means. We revealed have some interesting and useful findings. People are still not effectively covering their eyelids and facial areas when applying suncream, and it is actually worse with moisturiser. If you would like to know more, please check out our paper in PLoS One, and the coverage on the BBC, as well as other news outlets!

Cheers, and may your doors forever be sun protected.


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