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High-Tech Photos Show Early Sun Damage

Ultraviolet Facial Snapshot Shows Skin's Hidden Sun Damage, Encourages Sun Protection

WebMD Health News

March 21, 2005 -- A picture is worth a thousand words when it comes to sun protection.

Call it the "scared straight" approach to sun protection. Ultraviolet (UV) photography lets people glimpse their skin's hidden sun damage -- premature wrinkles and spots waiting to surface.

"Ultraviolet cameras are readily available, relatively inexpensive, and simple to operate," write researchers in a new study. "This intervention could be offered at most dermatology clinics, student health clinics, and physician's offices."

An ultraviolet facial photograph, sun care information, and sunless tanning lotion could inspire people to adopt skin-smart sun strategies, say the researchers. These interventions could help discourage the primary motivator for skin cancer behaviors -- immediate appearance enhancement.

The researchers encourage everyone to:

  • Limit sun exposure from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  • Wear protective clothing (such as a hat).
  • Wear sunscreen with a solar protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.

Soaking Up Sun Damage?

Warm, bright sunshine may feel good, but it can be harsh on the skin. Sun burns aren't the only problem. The sun's UV rays can also cause skin cancer.

New cases of skin cancer are growing at a rate of 3%-4% annually. Melanoma -- the most deadly form of skin cancer -- is outpacing all other types of cancer, the researchers report.

Sun protection gets lots of publicity. But awareness doesn't always translate into action.

"Young adults in particular, motivated by the perceived appearance-enhancing benefits of tanned skin, are continuing to receive large amounts of intentional and unintentional exposure to UV radiation," write psychologist Heike Mahler, PhD, and colleagues. Mahler works at the University of California at San Diego.

Instant Motivation

UV photographs were motivational in Mahler's study. Nearly 150 college students in Southern California participated. Most were white.

The students filled out two sun protection surveys. The first questionnaire covered current practices; the second asked about future sun care plans.

Many students got a lot of sun. One in five said they had sunbathed for at least an hour during the previous weekend. About 97% said they'd been outside for at least an hour during the past week, not counting sunbathing. More than half said they knew someone with skin cancer and more than two out of every five students had at least one family member with skin cancer.

Brush up on Beauty

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