Health

Vanity is Our Skin’s Best Protector

What if we could actually see what our sun-damaged skin would look like?

“Wear sunscreen!” How many times have you heard that advice?

Your parents likely slathered it on you as a child — but as a teen you hit the tanning bed because you felt it made you look more attractive. Now as an adult, you may remember sunscreen on occasion as you head out to your kid’s ball tournament for the weekend. Otherwise, you don’t give it much thought.

“Young patients feel invincible when it comes to skin cancer,” said one physician.

Yet “malignant melanoma is on the increase,” said Jane Ogden of the University of Surrey, one of the authors of a new study on the subject.

Ogden and a research team from the University of Surrey examined the way sun-safe messages are conveyed to young women to see what, if anything, might change their sun-worshipping ways. They found that if women could literally see the damage the sun does to their skin via technology that ages them — that’s what has the most impact.

In other words, vanity may be the best deterrent.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, as the saying goes,” said Scott W. Fosko, M.D., chair of the dermatology department at Mayo Clinic in Florida.

Related: Discoveries Halt Deadliest Skin Cancers

“Studies have shown over and over that our young patients, women and men, feel invincible to a certain degree when it comes to developing a skin cancer or other problems later in life. Delivering the message with a more relevant and personalized approach can be effective,” he told LifeZette.

After seeing their own face prematurely sun-aged using technology, young women took twice the number of free sunscreen samples.

The new research studied the differences between text-based and visual messages and examined whether warnings about future appearance had an impact on changing behaviors.

Researchers found that after seeing their own face prematurely sun-aged through the use of technology, young women took two times the number of free sunscreen samples and three times the number of skin cancer leaflets, compared to those women who had read text information about sun damage. They also showed a 30-percent lower belief in the skin’s ability to heal.

“Our study explored the best way of framing messages to change their attitudes and promote healthier behavior,” said Ogden. “The results showed that appearance-based messages that used imagery to emphasize sun aging were the most effective.” The new study was published this week in the journal Cogent Psychology.

“It is so common for women, and men for that matter, to say, ‘If I knew then what I know now, I would have done things differently,’” said Fosko.

Fair-skinned young women are the most at-risk group for malignant melanoma, a type of cancer most attributable to the UV rays of the sun. However, they often don’t realize the extent of the risk.

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The hope is that sun-aging technology can be used more widely to increase sunscreen uptake by young women, and men — and that physicians learn something valuable as well.

“For physicians, be creative with your patient and your overall audience as to how to deliver a message,” said Fosko. “Make it real and make it personalized. For the patient, realize the importance of sun damage — both cosmetic and premature aging, and its impact on skin cancer development. The damage happens early, yet the effects may not be seen for quite some time. Make a difference for yourself and loved ones, especially your children.”

Oh — and wear sunscreen.

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