Beauty, Not Skin Cancer Risk, Encourages Teens to Use Sunscreen

Most people have no problem understanding that it’s important to wear sunscreen to prevent skin cancer. But when it comes to motivating teens to use sunscreen, the threat of skin cancer isn’t enough, apparently.

Indeed, researchers from the University of Colorado found that teens are more likely to use sunscreen when they’re told how sun exposure can have a negative effect on their appearance – such as premature wrinkles and aging of the skin.

“We see this anecdotally in the clinic,” said Dr. April W. Armstrong, , investigator at the CU Cancer Center and vice chair of Clinical Research at the CU School of Medicine Department of Dermatology. “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.”

Researchers divided a group of high school students. One group watched a video about skin cancer and sun exposure, the other viewed one about the sun’s effect on wrinkles and aging. The only group that started wearing sunscreen more often was the one that had watched the video on wrinkles.

“For teenagers, telling them UV exposure will lead to skin cancer is not as effective as we would hope,” Armstrong said. “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.”

Source: University of Colorado Denver news release

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