Do appearance-focused interventions help promote sun protection behaviours?

By Dr. Alison Owen, Lecturer in Psychology.

Over the last decade, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have increased by almost a half (45%) in the UK, and there are around 15,400 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year, that’s 42 every day (Cancer Research UK). A massive 86% of melanoma skin cancer in the UK is preventable (Cancer Research UK), for example by protecting your skin from the sun by using sun tan lotion or using clothes to cover up, so it is really important to find ways to encourage people to protect their skin from the sun.

Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University (Sofia Perrson, Yael Benn and Sarah Grogan) and Leeds Beckett University (Katie Dhingra), along with researchers here at The Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research (Alison Owen and David Clark-Carter), have carried out a review of literature investigating how effective appearance-focussed interventions are at encouraging people to have safer and healthier UV exposure and sun protection behaviours. The study was modeled on a previous review carried out here at Staffordshire University in 2013 by Dr Owen, Prof Grogan, Prof Clark-Carter and Dr Buckley, which focused on how well appearance-based interventions work to reduce UV exposure, for example by discouraging people from using sunbeds in the future, or encouraging them to wear more sun protection (read this paper here).

In the present study, in press in the British Journal of Health Psychology, 33 studies were reviewed, each of which having used an appearance-focused intervention aiming to encourage healthier UV exposure and sun protection behaviours. For example, some of the reviewed interventions worked by showing individuals the impact that exposing their skin to the sun without using protection could have, in terms of wrinkling or age spots. We found very encouraging results, in that appearance-based interventions appear to have positive effects on UV exposure and sun protection immediately after the intervention, as well as up to 12 months afterwards. This supported the findings of the original review, which also found that appearance-based interventions have a positive effect on UV exposure and sun protection intentions and behaviour.

Dr Owen is continuing to carry out research looking at the effectiveness of appearance-focussed interventions on changing peoples’ health behaviours, and is currently carrying out research investigating whether showing people the negative impact that binge drinking can have on their skin, can impact on their alcohol consumption in the future.

The new systematic review can be read via the British Journal of Health Psychology‘s website:


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health Psychology is a centre of excellence for teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Centre for Health Psychology is part of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Christmas Drinking: New research explores the effects of an appearance-focused intervention for alcohol use

By Dr Alison Owen, Lecturer in Psychology.

Research by Cancer Research UK suggests that young adults will drink an average of 62 units – the equivalent of 30 glasses of wine or 22 pints of beer – in the run-up to Christmas. As Christmas party season approaches, researchers in the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research & Centre for Health Psychology are looking into ways to encourage people to stick to the government’s recommended alcohol guidelines. Myself and Dr Keira Flett are in the initial stages of analysing research from a pilot study, looking at the impact of an appearance-focussed intervention designed to encourage safer alcohol consumption in students. The researchers are focusing on appearance following their previous research looking at smoking and UV exposure behaviours (Grogan et al., 2011a, 2011b; Flett et al., 2013, 2017; Williams et al., 2012, 2013a, 2013b, 2013c, 2014), which found that young people are more likely to be persuaded to change their health behaviours if they believe that carrying out that particular behaviour will damage their appearance.

Students taking part in the current study were shown how their skin may age if they drank in excess of the recommended guidelines, compared to how their skin may age if they drank within the considered healthy limits. They were able to see themselves ageing from their current age, up to the age of 72 years. Participants were recorded during the sessions, so that the researchers could hear how participants responded to the intervention as they viewed it. The researchers are currently in the process of analysing and writing up their findings. In the future, we plan to expand the research to compare the effectiveness of the appearance-focussed intervention with a health-focussed intervention, where participants read about the health impacts of binge drinking and drinking above the recommended alcohol limits.

The UK government guidelines state that to keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis, and that if you regularly drink as much as this, it is best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. If you are interested in finding out more about the recommendations or have any concerns about your alcohol consumption during this festive season and beyond, then please visit www.drinkaware.co.uk


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health Psychology is a centre of excellence for teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Centre for Health Psychology is part of the Stafford shire Centre for Psychological Research.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

New sun protection intervention research seeking participants aged 34 years and older

Dr Alison Owen

A new research study conducted in collaboration with Dr Alison Owen (Lecturer in Psychology, Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research & Centre for Health Psychology) is seeking volunteers aged 34 years and above – Alison blogs about the study below:

Dr Alison Owen completed her PhD in 2013, under the  supervision of Prof. Sarah Grogan, Prof. David Clark-Carter and Dr Emily Buckley. Alison’s PhD involved researching ways in which to help people to improve their sun protection behaviours in order to encourage them to improvd their sun protection and UV exposure behaviours (e.g. Sun bathing, using sun beds). The main intervention used in the PhD involved showing participants images of how their faces may age if they exposed their skin to the sun, compared to how their faces might age if they protect their skin. The piece of software used, AprilAge, lets participants view projected images of themselves up to the age of 72 years, comparing images of them after exposing their skin to the sun without using protection with those where they have been protecting their skin from the sun. Dr Owen and the PhD supervision team found some really positive findings, with participants reporting significantly higher intentions to use sun protection after viewing the intervention.

One of Dr Owen’s suggestions for future research in her PhD was to look at the effectiveness of the intervention in older men and women, over the age of 34 years. Dr Owen’s research focussed on participants aged 18-34 years, as well as a group of adolescent participants aged 11-14 years, as there is evidence that people who have ever used a sunbed have an increased risk of melanoma (the most serious form of skin cancer) and this risk is even higher in people who have started using sun beds before the age of 35. However it is also really important to fully investigate the impact of the intervention, and to see if it has even more potential, in older people alongside those who are aged 34 years and under.

Researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University are building on Dr Owen’s research and are investigating the impact of the intervention on people aged between 35 and 61 years old. PhD student Sofia Persson is working with Prof. Sarah Grogan and Dr Yael Benn to carry out the research. Like with Dr Owen’s research, Sofia is carrying out both quantitative and qualitative research with men and women, to see how effective it is in this group of people.

Interested in taking part in this study?

Sofia Persson will be visiting Staffordshire University on Wednesday 1st November to recruit participants for their research. The study will consist of discussing the negative effects of UV exposure and the positive effects of sun protection, as well as compelling measures of sun protection and UV exposure immediately, four weeks and six months after the session. The initial session will take around 30 minutes and all follow-up measures will be completed online. Upon completion of the measures, participants will be entered into a prize draw with the opportunity to win a £30 gift voucher.

If you are aged between 35 and 61 years, and are available for a thirty minute slot on the 1st November, then please contact Sofia on sofia.persson@stu.mmu.ac.uk or Dr Owen on alison.owen@staffs.ac.uk for further information.


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health Psychology is a centre of excellence for teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Centre for Health Psychology is part of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Dr Alison Owen featured on BBC Radio Wiltshire discussing Tanning Behaviours & Sun Protection

Dr Alison Owen

Dr Alison Owen (Lecturer in Psychology) was featured on BBC Radio Wiltshire’s Graham Seaman show (31st May 2017) discussing the psychological factors associated with tanning behaviours.

Dr Owen has conducted a number of studies into the reasons why both men and women engage in tanning behaviours, especially in relation to the perceived attractiveness of tanned skin, as well as ways in which psychologists can promote more sun protective behaviours.

Listen to Dr Owen’s interview via the below link (from 1hr, 28 mins, 30 seconds):

BBC iPlayer – BBC Wiltshire: Graham Seaman Show

Dr Owen is a Lecturer and researcher at Staffordshire University, and is a member of the University’s Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research and the Centre for Health Psychology. Dr Owen has blogged about her sun protection research for a recent Sun Protection Awareness Week, read more via:

Sun Awareness Week: Dr Alison Owen discusses new research into sun protection behaviours


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health Psychology is a centre of excellence for teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Centre for Health Psychology is part of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Sun Awareness Week: Dr Alison Owen discusses new research into sun protection behaviours

Dr Alison Owen

As part of Sun Awareness Week (8th-14th May 2017), Dr Alison Owen (Lecturer in Psychology at Staffordshire University) blogs about her recent research into the use of facial ageing software to improve sun protection behaviours:

More than one in three people have been sunburnt in the last year while in the UK and, of those, 28 per cent were sunburnt three or more times, according to a survey carried out by the British Association of Dermatologists to mark their Sun Awareness Week. In addition, a study we conducted here at the Centre for Health Psychology at Staffordshire University found that 80% of female participants felt that a tan looked good and 71.4% felt that tanned people look healthy (Williams et al., 2013).

Based on these findings, we have researched ways in which to help people to improve their sun protection behaviours in order to encourage them to be more safe in the sun, focusing on addressing the appearance-effects of sun exposure to improve sun protection behaviours. Along with colleagues Prof. David Clark-Carter, Dr. Emily Buckley and Prof. Sarah Grogan, we showed participants images of how their faces may age if they exposed their skin to the sun, compared to how their faces might age if they protect their skin. The picture (below) shows an example of the software used, where participants are able to view a projected image of themselves up to the age of 72 years, comparing images of them after exposing their skin to the sun without using protection (right hand side) with those where they have been protecting their skin from the sun (left hand side). We found that viewing the projected damage to their skin condition significantly improved factors such as participants’ intentions to wear sun protection, and gave them more negative attitudes towards UV exposure (Williams et al., 2013).

APRIL software showing a projection of how a participant may look at 72 years of age.

The World Health Organization (2012) suggests that recreational exposure to UV radiation, including exposure to the sun and sunbeds and a history of sunburn, are the primary causes of all melanomas, which can lead to skin cancer, emphasising the importance of staying safe in the sun. The NHS website contains advice on how best to protect your skin (click here).

You can watch Dr Alison Owen talking about her research as part of a feature on tanning use and skin cancer by BBC Inside Out West Midlands from February 2015 (from 1 minute into the below video).


Staffordshire University – The Home of Health Psychology

Staffordshire University’s Centre for Health Psychology is a centre of excellence for teaching and research in Health Psychology, and is home to Staffordshire’s BPS Accredited Stage 1 MSc in Health Psychology and Stage 2 Professional Doctorate in Health Psychology. The Centre for Health Psychology is part of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research.

Keep updated with the latest Health Psychology news from Staffordshire University via following us on @StaffsPsych and via the #HealthPsychStaffs hashtag.

For further information about Health Psychology courses and research at Staffordshire University please visit the following webpages:

Dr Alison Owen featured on BBC One’s Inside Out Programme

Dr Alison Owen, Lecturer in Psychology at Staffordshire University, was featured on the West Midlands’ edition of BBC1’s Inside Out programme broadcast on Monday 23rd February.

Alison was featured on a segment focused on the dangers of sun exposure as BBC journalist Laura McMullan, a former tanning addict and cancer survivor, takes a young woman (Jess) from Stoke-on-Trent on an exploration of the health risks associated with excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Alison can be seen showing Jess and Laura the potential negative effects of Jess’s current UV exposure on the health of Jess’s skin at age 70 based on computer modelling. The Inside Out programme can be viewed via the BBC iPlayer link below. Further details about the programme and Laura McMullan’s story can be found via the Stoke Sentinel link.

BBC iPlayer: Inside Out West Midlands (Broadcast 23rd February 2015)

Stoke Sentinel: BBC’s Laura McMullan speaks of skin cancer battle after becoming addicted to sunbeds