When health officials in Brazil wanted to show teens the effects of too much exposure to the sun, they used technology the teens could relate to: selfie photos.
Specifically, they used a face-aging app that showed the teens what prolonged exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation could do to their skin. The damage ranged from wrinkles and dry skin to uneven pigmentation and skin cancer.
Brazil has one of the highest UV indexes in the world and tanning is very common. UV radiation exposure is a serious risk factor for melanoma, and health experts sought interventions that would get the attention of the younger generation.
Researchers enrolled more than 1,500 high schoolers, roughly half of whom were assigned to a control group. The rest attended a classroom seminar conducted by medical students where the teens’ selfies were altered by the app Sunface to show how UV would impact their future faces. The withering effects, as you might imagine, were jarring, especially when they were viewed alongside everyone else in their class.
The teens also were given information on how to protect themselves from UV radiation. When the researchers checked back at three- and six-month intervals with the students who had been shown their future faces, the results were encouraging. A significant number of the teens reported using sunscreen daily, while more than twice as many students said they were doing self-examinations than those in the control group. They also reported a drastic reduction in the use of tanning beds.
The findings suggest that interventions like the face-aging app may motivate teens to better protect their skin. After all, seeing is believing.