Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Appealing to Vanity: The Dangers of Tanning

What's more frightening - contracting Melanoma or looking old before your time?

The incidence of skin disorders associated with ultraviolet light increases with age and develops over several decades. One Australian study found moderate to severe photodamage in 72% of men and 47% of women under 30 years of age.

Melanoma - the most lethal form of skin cancer - will strike nearly 60,000 Americans this year and kill about 8,100. This type of data has been around for decades, as have informative governmental campaigns.

But what's the best way to get the message across? It may have less to do with thinly veiled cancer threats and more to do with appearance.

A 2006 study published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, used “appearance-based interventions” on 244 Southern California beach patrons ranging in age from 18 to 67 at the very start of summer. Researchers started showing college students images of people with heavy wrinkling and age spots, then followed up with Polaroids of their own sun-damaged skin, captured with a ultraviolet camera, which reveals age spots and uneven pigmentation not yet visible to the naked eye.

Interviews three months later showed the message got through - the participants were protecting their skin from the sun.

A newer study Health Psychology involving 133 UCSD students shows “in your face” intervention actually resulted in sun-smart behavior for a full year.


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