Warnings and alternatives boost sun protection

Showing people pictures of how sun has damaged their skin and encouraging them to use sunless tanning lotions appear to give many people the nudge they need to steer clear of the sun, new research suggests.

Investigators found that people who watched a video about how sun exposure causes wrinkles and age spots and saw a UV photograph showing how the sun had already damaged their faces were more likely to increase their efforts to shield themselves from the sun than people who didn’t see videos or UV photographs.

And when the investigators coupled videos and UV photographs with free samples of sunless tanning lotion, participants were even more careful about protecting themselves from the sun, the authors report in the journal Archives of Dermatology.

People get tans to look good, study author Dr. Heike Mahler explained, and if vanity is the reason they tan, you need to appeal to their vanity in order to convince them to stop.

The sunless tanning lotion likely helps because it gives people the look of tanning without sun, which the videos and UV photographs tell them can actually hurt their appearance over time. “If they find (sunless tanning) a viable alternative, then they’re willing to take more precautions with UV rays,” she says.

However, less than 40 percent of the people given a sunless tanner used it. Mahler noted that many people are hesitant towards sunless tanning lotion because they fear that it may turn their skin orange, or consider it “cheating.”

Further efforts are needed to counteract those perceptions, she noted. “You don’t need the sun to get a tan,” she said.

In the report, Mahler, who is based at the University of California in San Diego, and her colleagues write that the rate of skin cancer is increasing every year, and most cases of the disease can be prevented.

The best way to avoid skin cancer is to stay out of the sun between 10 AM and 3 PM, choose clothing that covers your skin, and apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15.

However, research suggests that people respond better to warnings about sun’s effect on their appearance than warnings about how sun can cause cancer. To investigate further, Mahler and her team asked 106 college students to look at a UV photograph of their face and a video about sun’s effect on aging, then gave 46 a free sample of sunless tanning lotion. Another 50 students received neither intervention.

The researchers found that people who got both sunless tanning lotion and information about sun’s effect on aging were most likely to use sun protection during the month following the study. More than 60 percent of people who watched the video and saw a UV photograph of their faces told at least one friend or family member about what they had learned about sun damage and protection.

SOURCE: Archives of Dermatology, March 2005.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.