Teenagers felt more compelled to apply
sunscreen if they saw in a video that it could protect their skin from
premature ageing than if they saw that it could protect against cancer, a new
"Vanity is more of a driving force to use sunscreen, as
opposed to the fear factor of developing skin
cancer," the study's lead author, William Tuong, told Reuters Health.
Tuong is a fourth-year medical student at the University of California, Davis.
In his study, high school students applied sunblock three
times as often if they watched a video showing how it could prevent their skin
than if they watched a video showing how sun exposure causes melanoma.
Appearance vs. health
Fifty Sacramento 11th-grade students participated in the
study and saw one of two educational videos urging them to lather on sunscreen.
Tuong developed the five-minute videos to test the theory
that teenagers were more likely to respond to messages about appearance than to
messages about health.
A young, attractive woman speaks directly to youth in both
In one, the actress emphasizes the growing incidence of
melanoma in young people and the link between the deadliest form of skin cancer
and ultraviolet light.
video can be seen here:
In the other video,
the same actress discusses how ultraviolet light contributes to premature aging
and "can make you look older and less attractive". "We are not
trying to look like our grandparents, right?" the actress says. "Have
you seen what the sun can do to a grape? It gets shrivelled and wrinkled.
Raisins are not cute," she says. "I don't want to look like a raisin
face, and I don't think you want to either," she continues. "The sun
causes wrinkles, dark spots, uneven skin tones, sagging skin and rough,
video can be seen here:
These are all the things that will make you look older and
definitely less sexy. The video teaching the kids to use sunscreen to
prevent skin cancer sounds more clinical, like a biology lecture.
The researchers assessed how often students applied
sunscreen before watching the videos and six weeks after.
Improved knowledge on
Students who saw the appearance-based video went from using
sunscreen an average of 0.6 times a week to 2.8 times a week. Those who saw the
video stressing health benefits, however, increased their average usage by only
a fraction of a day – from 0.7 to 0.9 times a week, according to findings
published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
The researchers also tested students' knowledge about proper
sunscreen use and the effects of exposing their skin to the sun before and
after they showed the video. After watching the videos, students in both groups
improved their knowledge about the benefits of using sunscreen.
The study provides evidence that appearance-based messages
may be better than traditional health-based messages in promoting sun-protection
measures, the authors say.
Prior research has shown that efforts to educate kids about sun
exposure and skin-cancer risk have improved knowledge but failed to improve
sunscreen usage. "Past research shows that adolescents have difficulty
practicing preventive health behaviour because they believe themselves less
likely to experience disease," the authors of the current study write.
One prior study did find that college students significantly
increased their sunscreen use after seeing ultraviolet-filtered photographs of
Tuong said videos are substantially less expensive to
produce and easier to distribute than ultraviolet-filtered
photographs. "Video definitely could be used in a clinic setting, in the
waiting room or in an office while a student is waiting," he said.
"With younger individuals, messages that resonate with
them are messages that speak to them now," Tuong said.
"Appearance-based messaging resonates with them because it's more about
short-term risk versus long-term risk."
sunscreen slows skin ageing
does sunscreen work?
1 in 4 young teens uses sunscreen