Study: Beauty not disease motivates teens to wear sunscreen

April Armstrong, MD, MPH, and colleagues show that worries about premature aging and not about skin cancer motivate teens to use sunscreen. Credit: Flickr/Gamma-RayProductions cc license

After offering information about UV light and sun-protective behaviors, the two health-ed videos diverge: one describes the increased skin cancer risk of UV exposure and the other describes effects on appearance including wrinkles and premature aging. Which of these two videos do you think caused teenagers to use more sunscreen six weeks after it was shown? A University of Colorado Cancer Center study shows that while teens who watched both videos learned and retained the same amount of knowledge about UV light and sun-protective behaviors, only the teens who watched the appearance-based video (and not the health-based video) actually changed these behaviors.

"We see this anecdotally in the clinic. The teens who come in, often it's because their parents are dragging them. A lot have undergone tanning or never wear sunscreen. You can tell that when we talk about the risk, it doesn't faze them. But when you talk about premature wrinkling and aging, they listen a little more closely," says April W. Armstrong, MD MPH, investigator at the CU Cancer Center and vice chair of Clinical Research at the CU School of Medicine Department of Dermatology.

The current study aimed to quantify this observation. First, Armstrong and colleagues went to local high schools to recruit 50 subjects. All subjects completed questionnaires demonstrating their baseline knowledge about UV light and use of sun-protective behaviors. Then subjects were randomized into two groups, one of which viewed the health-based video that emphasized skin cancer risk, and the other of which viewed the appearance-based video that emphasized cosmetic changes due to UV exposure. Six weeks later, all subjects again completed questionnaires that showed the knowledge they retained and changes in sun-protective behaviors.

"Interestingly, we didn't see any difference in teenagers' knowledge – no matter if they had watched the health-based or appearance-based video, students learned and retained the same amount of information," Armstrong says.

However, despite knowing the skin cancer risk from UV exposure, the group that had watched the health-based video showed no statistically significant increase in their sun-protective behaviors. On the other hand, the group that had been shown the appearance-based video reported a dramatic increase in the use of sunscreen.

"For teenagers, telling them UV exposure will lead to skin cancer is not as effective as we would hope. If our endgame is to modify their behavior, we need to tailor our message in the right way and in this case the right way is by highlighting consequences to appearance rather than health. It's important to address now – if we can help them start this behavior when younger, it can affect skin when older," Armstrong says.

More information: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24508292

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

UV photographs of 12-year-olds show skin cancer risk

Mar 28, 2012

Look at a middle school assembly – during their lifetime one in 50 of these kids will develop melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer that kills 48,000 people every year, worldwide. Now look at these kids again ...

Study highlights need for better sunscreens

Dec 04, 2013

A low level of daily exposure to a common component of sunlight can cause skin damage at the molecular level after just a few days, new University of Michigan Medical School research shows.

Cancer-causing skin damage is done when young

May 10, 2012

With high UV levels continuing in Queensland this autumn, young people are at risk of suffering the worst skin damage they will receive during their lifetime, research from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has found.

Recommended for you

High-calorie and low-nutrient foods in kids' TV

10 hours ago

Fruits and vegetables are often displayed in the popular Swedish children's TV show Bolibompa, but there are also plenty of high-sugar foods. A new study from the University of Gothenburg explores how food is portrayed in ...

Chemical companies shore up supplement science

10 hours ago

As evidence mounts showing the potential health benefits of probiotics, antioxidants and other nutritional compounds, more and more people are taking supplements. And the chemical industry is getting in on the action. But ...

More Americans in their golden years are going hungry

10 hours ago

In a country as wealthy as the United States, it may come as a surprise that one in 12 seniors do not have access to adequate food due to lack of money or other financial resources. They are food insecure.

User comments