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Study underlines that teens are motivated by beauty to use sunscreen

By Simon Pitman+

17-Mar-2014
Last updated on 17-Mar-2014 at 17:30 GMT

Although awareness of the risks of cancer from sun exposure is on the rise, a study by researchers at the University of Colorado Denver shows that beauty is the motivational force to get teens to use sunscreen.

Researchers showed two groups of teenagers two different health education films, one which underlined the increased risk of cancer from UV exposure, the other highlighting the risk of increased wrinkles and premature aging.

The research, conducted by scientists at the Colorado Cancer Center, showed that teens retained the same amount of information from both health education videos, but those that watched the video stressing the physical effects of the sun were most likely to incorporate behavioral changes.

Highlighting the right approach to sunscreens for teens?

The study will strike a chord with sunscreen manufacturers, particularly those who are focused on the marketing and promotion of this kind of products.

Although sunscreen products are increasingly marketed on the strength of their ant-aging properties, the fact that stressing the physical effects of sun to sun-loving teenagers could have a bearing on how such products are marketed at this particular age group.

"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.” said 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.

“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."

Appearance-based and a health-based video

The scientists recruited 50 students from a local high school for the purpose of the study, who were all pre-screened to establish that they had a base knowledge about UV light and the use of sun protection, before being split into two groups to view one of the videos.

Six weeks after viewing the videos all subjects were asked questions about the video to determine what, if any, information they had retained since the viewing.

The scientists noted that knowledge retention from both the health-based video and the appearance video were almost identical, however, when it came to re-assessing individual sun-protective behavior after watching the videos, here differences in the two groups were noted.

Physical harm caused by sun is what resonates

The significant difference was that there was no recorded difference in the sun-protective behavior of the students that had watched the health-based video, whereas those that had watched the appearance-based video had reported a dramatic increase in the use of sunscreens.

"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,” said Armstrong.

“It's important to address now – if we can help them start this behavior when younger, it can affect skin cancer risk when older."

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