Staying out of the sun is a really good way to avoid skin cancer. But that doesn’t matter to the many peopleyou know who you arewho want to be tan. Researchers in Southern California tried another approach: telling college students that UV light can make your skin age faster, on the theory that people care more about their appearance than the abstract risk of skin cancer. What the researchers wanted to know: Does teaching people about photoaging make them more likely to avoid sun exposure? What they did: The researchers recruited 146 undergrads from the University of CaliforniaSan Diego and California State UniversitySan Marcos. First, participants filled out a questionnaire on their sun habits. Then about a third of them filled out a second questionnaire on their future sun plans; they didn’t get the lesson about aging, and were used as a control group. The others watched a 12-minute video about photoaging and were shown a UV-filtered photograph of their own faces, showing marks on the skin caused by chronic sun exposure. Then they filled out the same questionnaire about their future plans as the control group. Everyone got a free sunscreen sample, and half of the participants who watched the video also got a bottle of self-tanning lotion. The really sneaky part of this study came about a month later, when someone called each subject to ask about sun habits. (The researchers figured that if they told the students there would be a follow-up, they’d be more likely to shape up.) What they found: People who’d seen the video and the UV photographs were more likely to use sunscreen when they were out in the sun during daily activities. They were also more likely to use the free sunscreen they were given and to buy more sunscreen. What the study means to you: This kind of study helps dermatologists who want to know what kind of intervention works best on persuading people to stay out of the sun. The researchers point out that it can be really hard to convince people they should care about skin cancer, when tanners are weighing that against their desire to look good now; that’s why they tried warning people about the danger to their appearance instead of to their health. Caveats: The people in the study didn’t spend much time intentionally tanning to start with, so the researchers didn’t have a big enough sample to tell if the intervention reduced the amount of time people spent tanning. Also, the follow-up was only a month after the participants watched the video; it would be useful to know if the intervention had a longer-term effect.
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