Fear, it turns out, can be a powerful motivator in getting teenagers to wear sunscreen. But it’s not fear of skin cancer that will get them to act, but fear of wrinkles.
Researchers at the University of Colorado Cancer Center surveyed 50 11th-graders at a Northern California high school and found that, on average, the students wore sunscreen one day per week, if that. The researchers then split the students into two groups. One group was shown a five-minute video focusing on health and how sunscreen can prevent deadly skin cancers. The other group’s video emphasized how sunscreen can protect appearance, preventing wrinkles, spots and premature aging.
Six weeks later, the students filled out questionnaires. Their answers revealed that both groups retained a similar amount of knowledge about sunscreen and the sun’s dangers, but only the students who watched the video on appearance and aging actually changed their ways. Those students reported stepping up their average sunscreen use to almost three days a week. The health video group, meanwhile, didn’t change their ways, still averaging less that one day a week.
“We see this anecdotally in the clinic,” Dr. April W. Armstrong, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “The teens who come in, often it’s because their parents are dragging them. A lot have undergone tanning or never wear sunscreen. 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.”