A new study suggests that telling teens about the negative effects of sun exposure on their appearance is more likely to convince them to use sunscreen than warning them about the risks of skin cancer.
The study included 50 high school students who were divided into two groups and shown different videos. Both videos provided information about the impact of ultraviolet light in the sun's rays and how to protect against it.
But one video outlined how UV exposure increases the risk of skin cancer, while the other emphasized how UV light can cause things such as premature wrinkles and aging of the skin.
Both groups of teens learned and remembered the same amount of information about UV light and sun-protection measures. But only the teens who watched the video about UV's effects on appearance showed a dramatic increase in sunscreen use, the University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers found.
The study was published online this month in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
"We see this anecdotally in the clinic," study author Dr. April Armstrong said in a cancer center news release. "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 skin cancer risk, it doesn't faze them. But when you talk about premature wrinkling and aging, they listen a little more closely."
"Telling them UV exposure will lead to skin cancer is not as effective as we would hope," said Armstrong, who is also vice chairwoman of clinical research in the dermatology department at the university's medical school. "If our endgame is to modify their behavior, we need to tailor our message in the right way. In this case, the right way is by highlighting consequences to appearance rather than health.
"It's important to address now," she said. "If we can help them start this behavior when younger, it can affect skin cancer risk when older."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more about sun protection.