Ah, Vanity: Wrinkle videos trump cancer vids in getting teens to bust out the sunscreen

It may not be surprising that appealing to our vanity works better than a biology lecture, but the extent to which the approach increases sunscreen use is sizable.

The video about staying sexy appears to be significantly more effective at getting teens to wear sunscreen than the one about dying from skin cancer. William Tuong/UC Davis

Want to get kids to wear sunscreen more often? Teaching them about skin cancer and death apparently doesn't cut it; compare their face to a grape soon to be shriveled up like a raisin, however, and sunscreen becomes their new best friend.

It probably shouldn't come as much of a surprise that appealing to our vanity works better than a biology lecture, but the extent to which the approach increases sunscreen use is sizable.

Reporting in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, researchers at the University of California, Davis, say they showed 50 11th graders in Sacramento one of two educational videos about the importance of sunscreen. The kids who saw the video about the link between UV light and deadly melanoma went from applying sunscreen 0.7 times a week to slapping it on 0.9 times a week; the kids who were told that wrinkles, and sagging, rough, leathery skin, are "definitely less sexy" went from 0.6 to 2.8 times a week.

"Vanity is more of a driving force to use sunscreen, as opposed to the fear factor of developing skin cancer," the study's lead author, fourth-year med student William Tuong, told Reuters Health. "With younger individuals, messages that resonate with them are messages that speak to them now. Appearance-based messaging resonates with them because it's more about short-term risk versus long-term risk."

The study authors add that in previous studies, it's been established that adolescents don't adopt preventive health behaviors like applying sunscreen because they don't think they're going to get diseases. One study, however, did find that showing college kids UV-filtered photos of people's faces got them to substantially increase sunscreen use. And because videos are cheaper to produce and distribute, researchers argue for using them in doctor's offices and waiting rooms.

Check out the health-based video here, and the appearance-based video here. And next time someone refuses sunscreen, just tell them raisins aren't sexy.

About the author

Elizabeth Armstrong Moore is based in Portland, Oregon, and has written for Wired, The Christian Science Monitor, and public radio. Her semi-obscure hobbies include climbing, billiards, board games that take up a lot of space, and piano.


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