- The Washington Times - Monday, March 21, 2005

Photographs of sun-damaged skin, coupled with sunless tanning alternatives, encourage beauty-conscious people to pay attention to skin protection, a new study has found.

In an article in yesterday’s issue of Archives of Dermatology, California and Iowa researchers point out that new skin cancer cases are rising at a rate of 3 percent to 4 percent yearly, and the incidence of melanoma — the “most deadly form of skin cancer … is increasing more rapidly than that of any other type of cancer.”

The authors say it’s widely recognized that “most skin cancer cases could be prevented” by limiting sun exposure. But they argue that it’s been hard to get young Americans to make behavioral changes they fear might interfere with tanning.

“Young adults, motivated by the perceived appearance-enhancing benefits of tanned skin, are continuing to receive large amounts of intentional and unintentional exposure to UV radiation,” investigators, led by Heike I.M. Mahler, a project scientist at the University of California at San Diego, wrote.

Researchers theorized that educational strategies emphasizing the “negative consequences of UV exposure” might be “more effective than health warnings alone for countering the strong … influences for tanning.” Earlier research had suggested this, so they decided to conduct an additional study, with some modifications, that confirmed the findings.

For the second study, 146 college undergraduates filled out questionnaires about sunbathing and sun-protection practices.

Participants primarily were white with a mean age of 22. While most said they used sunscreen during sunbathing, only a third said they used it during incidental exposure to the sun.

Ninety-five students in the experiment were part of the intervention group, and the rest were control subjects. The 95 each had two photographs taken of the face: one under normal light and one with a UV filter.

“Participants were told that any ‘dark, freckled, or pitted areas’ in the UV photograph (that did not appear in the natural-light photograph) indicated existing underlying skin damage that would continue to worsen if they did not engage in greater sun-protection behaviors (than they currently did),” the authors wrote.

In their second study, Miss Mahler and her colleagues decided to combine the effects of UV photographic intervention with use of a sunless tanning lotion to see whether the availability of the alternative also enhanced sun protection. Half of those in the intervention group received the sunless tanning lotion, but only 37 percent of recipients said they used it.

In the initial study, participants knew they would be contacted about a month afterward to find out whether they had reduced UV exposure. In the second study, participants received a surprise follow-up phone call a month later.

Researchers discovered that intervention “significantly increased use of sun protection during incidental sun protection.”

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