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:

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