Why might this evidence be such a big deal? Doesn’t the risk of skin cancer seem more serious than premature wrinkles? For lots of individuals, the threat of skin cancer is enough to get them to slather on sunscreen every time they hit the beach. But that threat doesn’t prompt everyone to use sunscreen. Many people have an appearance-based concern that takes precedence. They want a nice suntan! With this new evidence about skin aging, doctors can now pit one appearance-based concern against another: a tan vs. fewer wrinkles. For individuals who don’t use sunscreen because they care about appearances, the evidence that wrinkles may form faster without sunscreen may be more effective at changing behavior than the threat of cancer.
Now it’s time to see what psychological science says about using appearance concerns to change behavior. Does appealing to people’s concerns for their looks alter their use of sunscreen? In one study addressing this question, researchers tested two appearance-based interventions with undergraduates in San Diego.
When compared to the control group, both interventions led to greater intentions to protect oneself from harmful sun exposure. However, intentions aren’t always linked to behavior, so the researchers also checked in with participants at the end of the summer (4 to 5 months after the interventions) to examine evidence of sun-protective behaviors. Engaging in more sun-protective behaviors (such as using sunscreen with a high SPF) should lead to less skin darkening over time. Researchers found that people in the intervention groups showed significantly less skin darkening after the summer than those in the control group. In addition, in the photoaging video group, this difference remained significant even a full year after the intervention.
If you don’t use sunscreen very often, does the evidence about premature skin aging convince you to change your behavior? If you have tried to convince someone else to use sunscreen, what strategies have you found most effective? Let us know in the comments!