Rebecca C. Jernigan, email@example.com
BOSTON – Warnings about the dangers of too much sun exposure abound, with the advertised consequences ranging from wrinkles to cancer.
We know that we should wear sunscreen, avoid tanning beds and, in general, be careful about catching rays. Unfortunately, with teens and preteens, that knowledge – and the maturity to act upon it – often come after the damage has been done. How are we to protect our youngsters from a future of skin damage if they don’t believe it will happen to them?
A volunteer is imaged using normal (left) and ultraviolet (right) light. Sun damage is visible as darkened spots in the UV image. Courtesy of Dr. Mariefrance Demierre, Boston University School of Medicine.
Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine are investigating ways to impress upon young people the reality of the damage done by too much sun exposure. To convince them, the researchers are using a Canon camera fitted with an ultraviolet filter to reveal the skin changes that already have taken place.
Led by Dr. Mariefrance Demierre, the researchers recruited 111 children, aged 11 to 13, from a local community with a higher-than-average rate of melanoma. All of the participants received a lecture about sunscreen use, and those in the intervention group (83) also received an ultraviolet photograph of their faces and a detailed explanation of the skin changes found there; the remainder, in the control group, did not. Both groups completed follow-up surveys regarding their attitudes and behaviors in relation to sun protection practices at two and six months.
After two months, the intervention group reported 21 percent fewer sunburns than the control group, although the gap narrowed to 13 percent at six months. Importantly, the greatest sun protection changes were made by children who had been shown to have a large number of skin changes, indicating a higher risk for melanoma.
Demierre believes that the use of UV images in sun education could make a huge difference in the way teens and preteens view the subject, especially if the practice were to become widespread. She suggested that taking the photos in doctors’ offices could become a common event.
The researchers have another paper due out on similar research, in which they used a full-spectrum camera during an outdoor event to show adult participants the changes in their skin.