Beauty, Not Skin Cancer, Motivates Teens To Wear Sunscreen
    By News Staff | February 13th 2014 01:01 PM | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Health education videos tell us what really matters to people.

    Two videos both began by offering information about UV light and sun-protective behaviors but then one describes the increased skin cancer risk of UV exposure and the other
    describes effects on appearance including wrinkles and premature aging.

    Cancer is too remote, but wrinkles are real, for teenagers. 

    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 skin cancer 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

    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 cancer risk when
    older," Armstrong says.