"Vanity is more of a driving force to use sunscreen, as opposed to the fear factor of developing skin cancer," the study's lead author, William Tuong, told Reuters Health. Tuong is a fourth-year medical student at the University of California, Davis.
In his study, high school students applied sunblock three times as often if they watched a video showing how it could prevent their skin from wrinkling than if they watched a video showing how sun exposure causes melanoma.
Fifty Sacramento 11th-grade students participated in the study and saw one of two educational videos urging them to lather on sunscreen.
Tuong developed the five-minute videos to test the theory that teenagers were more likely to respond to messages about appearance than to messages about health.
A young, attractive woman speaks directly to youth in both videos.
In one, the actress emphasizes the growing incidence of melanoma in young people and the link between the deadliest form of skin cancer and ultraviolet light. In the other video, the same actress discusses how ultraviolet light contributes to premature aging and "can make you look older and less attractive."
"We are not trying to look like our grandparents, right?" the actress says. "Have you seen what the sun can do to a grape? It gets shriveled and wrinkled. Raisins are not cute," she says.
"I don't want to look like a raisin face, and I don't think you want to either," she continues. "The sun causes wrinkles, dark spots, uneven skin tones, sagging skin and rough, leathery skin. These are all the things that will make you look older and definitely less sexy."
Image: Teen wearing sunscreen, via Shutterstock