Vanity Trumps Health in Sun Protection Education

Eileen Oldfield, Associate Editor
Published Online: Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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To get teenagers to apply sunscreen more frequently, appealing to their sense of vanity might be more effective than emphasizing health risks, the results of a study published in the April 2014 edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology suggest.

Researchers showed 1 of 2 educational videos on sunscreen use to 50 high school students. The videos emphasized either health-related consequences, including skin cancer risk, or appearance-based consequences, such as premature aging, associated with ultraviolet (UV) exposure. Researchers assessed sunscreen application prior to showing the videos, and then 6 weeks afterward, and recorded the average number of days per week that participants applied sunscreen in the preceding 30 days.

Although researchers noted limitations relating to the participants’ age group, their baseline assessment showed similar application frequency between the 2 groups—each applied sunscreen 1 or fewer days per week. After viewing the 5-minute, health-related video, participants in that group only increased their sunscreen applications slightly. The increase was not statistically significant, researchers reported.

Meanwhile, participants who saw the 5-minute, appearance-based video reported increasing their sunscreen applications to 2 to 3 days per week during a 6-week follow-up period.

Researchers also measured sunscreen knowledge at baseline, immediately after watching the videos, and at the 6-week follow-up. Both groups’ sunscreen knowledge improved over baseline immediately after viewing the videos, and during the 6-week follow-up. There was no significant difference in average knowledge between the 2 groups at baseline, immediately after watching their respective videos, or after 6 weeks.

The results might not apply to other age groups, according to the researchers. Despite that limitation, they noted that an appearance-based video appeared to significantly improve sunscreen application frequency, whereas a health-related educational video did not. As a result, researchers concluded that stressing short-term effects of UV exposure on appearance might promote sun protection more effectively than health-based messages. In addition, researchers noted that the results appeared to indicate that appearance-based video messages could be effective in transmitting information on UV damage and sun protection, which presents an advantage over other, resource-intense options such as UV photography.

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