By Doug Hanson
The possibility of skin cancer would seem to be a strong motivator to use sunscreen, but maybe not for young people. One new study found that teens may be more worried about how they will look as they age, rather than the possibility of cancer.
The research team used sunscreen education that focused on either health concerns such as skin cancer or appearance changes such as wrinkles. Students retained the same amount of information through either technique.
The study showed that teens were more inclined to use sunscreen after seeing how UV exposure from the sun can alter their appearance than they were after learning about skin cancer risks.
This study was led by April W. Armstrong, MD, MPH, investigator at the University of Colorado Cancer Center and vice chair of Clinical Research at the CU School of Medicine Department of Dermatology.
The research team recruited fifty 11th graders from a Northern California high school. Each student filled out a survey to create a starting point of their knowledge about UV light and use of sun-protective behaviors.
The students were then broken into two random groups by the authors. The health group watched a short video that focused on skin cancer risk, and the appearance group watched a video that emphasized cosmetic changes due to UV exposure, such as wrinkled and discolored skin.
The researchers returned after six weeks and had the students complete a questionnaire designed to show the knowledge the students retained and if they had changed how and how often they sought protection from the sun.
“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,” Dr. Armstrong said.
The researchers found that both videos effectively raised the students’ knowledge of sunscreen and both groups retained the same amount of information after six weeks.
This study showed that the appearance-focused group significantly improved their use of sunscreen at six weeks compared to the start of the study.
The health-focused group showed no statistically significant change between the first survey and the questionnaire at six weeks despite retaining the same understanding of the dangers as the appearance-focused group.
“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 cancer risk when older,” Dr. Armstrong said.
Dr. Armstrong and team noted that the study population may not accurately reflect the general population.
This study was first published February 7 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
This study was supported by a Morton Levitt Research Fellowship.
No conflicts of interest were disclosed.