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For sun lovers, a telling exposure

May 19, 2003|Dianne Partie Lange | Special to The Times

A picture has proved to be better than a thousand words in convincing people to use sunscreen and avoid tanning.

In a UC San Diego study, 76 beachgoers were given a brochure on photo-aging and sun protection, along with pictures that revealed the underlying damage in their facial skin; or the brochure alone; or nothing. The photos were taken using a UV ray-filtered instant camera.

During the next month, those participants who received the photo and the brochure essentially eliminated sunbathing; they also were more likely to protect themselves from the sun while going about their daily activities. Those who received only a brochure sunbathed less than those who didn't get the brochure -- but more than those who saw photos of themselves. Although this was a small pilot study, the researchers are undertaking a larger experiment to confirm their results.

Commenting on the research, New York University dermatologist Arielle N.B. Kauvar says that persuading people to do something simple, such as use sunscreen, is difficult when the negative effects of not doing it are in the distant future. "The 'reward' of tanning is so immediate compared to the remote risk of skin cancer and aging," she says. The photos make the relatively distant risks more immediate, she adds.

"This is an excellent study, and while further research needs to be done, it makes sense that seeing UV photos of themselves made an impact," says Kauvar. She uses a similar camera in her office and found that even nurses took sun damage more seriously after seeing UV-filtered photos of themselves.

The study was published in Health Psychology's March issue.

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