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UV photos get more people to put on sunscreen, say BYU and U of U researchers

Special UV photographs are capable of revealing existing skin damage caused by UV light exposure which is normally invisible to the naked eye. BYU Photo

PROVO — Utah sees the highest number of new cases of melanoma in the US every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Researchers from Brigham Young University and the University of Utah teamed up to figure out how to motivate people to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing, both effective ways of preventing that type of skin cancer.

BYU Biometrics Lab Director Kevin John says they talked to people about the risks of cancer and the mortality rates, but he thinks the best way to get people to lather on sunscreen was showing them the sun damage their skin already has.

That meant taking hundreds of UV photos.

Researchers used a modified Visia camera, one that’s usually used by cosmetics companies to study complexion, to photograph the sun damage underneath people’s skin.

“Our measure did show a marked increase for individuals who saw UV photos. Just general facts about melanoma and things like that weren’t as effective,” John says.

John says people really reacted to the visual element in front of them.

“We’re hoping that ultimately this research will influence the types of information that dermatologists can disseminate to patients and the types of messages that can be used in advertising,” John says.

The CDC reports cancer (of all types) is the second leading cause of death in the United States, second only to heart disease.