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Seeing is believing for sun-protection education

Showing young women a digital simulation of what their face would look like after sun-induced premature aging may be the most effective way to convey sun safety information and to encourage sun protective behaviour, according to findings published online in Cogent Psychology (Aug. 18, 2016; 3(1)).

The study asked 65 women from the U.K., between 16 and 25 years of age, to rate their sun safe beliefs and behavioural cognitions after being presented with personalized appearance-based information. This information was presented either as text or visually using a digital sun aging program, and also was varied as either immediate or regarding the future. Participant’s sun protective behaviour was also observed.

“Malignant melanoma is on the increase yet young women often don’t protect themselves by using sunscreen,” Professor Jane Ogden of the University of Surrey in England, one of the authors of the study, said in a press release. The authors note that while young, fair skinned women are the group at highest risk for malignant melanoma they often do not realize the extent of the risk.

After the visual intervention, participating women had a significantly lower perception of the skin’s ability to heal. They also exhibited more sun protective behaviour, represented by taking a sample of sunscreen as well as an educational leaflet on sun protection. There did not appear to be a significant difference in the results from framing the consequences of sun damage in terms of short-term or long-term changes, however.

“Our study explored the best way of framing messages to change their attitudes and promote healthier behaviour. The results showed that appearance-based messages that used imagery to emphasise sun aging were the most effective,” said Dr. Ogden. “This sun aging technology could be used more widely to increase sunscreen uptake by young women.”

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