May 26, 2020
2 min read

Teens increased skin protection habits after intervention with face-aging app

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An intervention in secondary schools in southeastern Brazil using a face-aging app resulted in an increase in protective measures used by students against sun exposure.

Ultraviolet exposure is a large risk factor for the development of melanoma and other skin cancers, especially with exposure early in life. As melanoma incidence rates rise worldwide, skin protection is increasingly significant for adolescents.

The 1,573 participants in the study were selected from 52 classes in eight secondary schools in Itauna, Brazil. The area has a high incidence rate of melanoma due to Brazil having one of the highest UV indexes in the world and a population mostly of European ancestry in the southeastern part of the country.

Students were educated about the long-term effects of UV exposure through the free mobile app Sunface. The app alters the appearance of a photo based on the effects of different levels of UV exposure and the skin type of the subject, displaying potential results of UV overexposure, including skin sagging, spots, wrinkles and cancerous lesions. This method of intervention was chosen based on previous studies, which concluded that appearance-related interventions were more effective than traditional health-based approaches.

All participants were surveyed about sunscreen use, skin self-examinations and tanning at the beginning of the study, as well as 3 and 6 months after the intervention.

The intervention group showed general improvements in skin protection measures compared with the control group. These included an increase of daily sunscreen use, an increase of skin self-examinations and a decrease in tanning sessions. However, tanning sessions reverted to baseline numbers between the 3- and 6-month surveys, which researchers attributed to “the fact that often adopting a new healthy behavior, such as sunscreen use, is easier than completely shedding a (bad) habit.”

The study was limited by the intervention being more effective for girls than boys. In addition, because the study was conducted in only Brazil, the results may not be generalizable.

The researchers said that the face-aging app is a promising strategy for skin cancer prevention but suggested further research is necessary to determine how to integrate intervention methods in the public health system to help more of the population. – by Kalie VanDewater

Disclosures: Brinker reports he received the Young Research Award from La Fondation La Roche-Posay for his research on the Sunface app and is the owner of Smart Health Heidelberg GmbH outside the submitted work. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.