BACKGROUND: Around 90% of melanomas are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and are therefore eminently preventable. Tanning behavior is mostly initiated in early adolescence, often with the belief that it increases attractiveness; the problems related to malignant melanoma and other skin cancers are too far in the future to fathom. Given the substantial amount of time children and adolescents spend in schools, as well as with their mobile phones, addressing melanoma prevention via both of these ways is crucial. However, no school-based intervention using mobile apps has been evaluated to date. We recently released a photoaging mobile app, in which a selfie is altered to predict future appearance dependent on UV protection behavior and skin type. OBJECTIVE: In this pilot study, we aimed to use mobile phone technology to improve school-based melanoma prevention and measure its preliminary success in different subgroups of students with regard to their UV protection behavior, Fitzpatrick skin type and age. METHODS: We implemented a free photoaging mobile phone app (Sunface) in 2 German secondary schools via a method called mirroring. We "mirrored" the students' altered 3-dimensional (3D) selfies reacting to touch on mobile phones or tablets via a projector in front of their whole grade. Using an anonymous questionnaire capturing sociodemographic data as well as risk factors for melanoma we then measured their perceptions of the intervention on a 5-point Likert scale among 205 students of both sexes aged 13-19 years (median 15 years). RESULTS: We measured more than 60% agreement in both items that measured motivation to reduce UV exposure and only 12.5% disagreement: 126 (63.0%) agreed or strongly agreed that their 3D selfie motivated them to avoid using a tanning bed, and 124 (61.7%) to increase use of sun protection. However, only 25 (12.5%) disagreed with both items. The perceived effect on motivation was increased in participants with Fitzpatrick skin types 1-2 in both tanning bed avoidance (n=74, 71.8% agreement in skin types 1-2 vs n=50, 53.8% agreement in skin types 3-6) and increased use of sun protection (n=70, 68.0% agreement in skin types 1-2 vs n=52, 55.3% agreement in skin types 3-6), and also positively correlated with higher age. CONCLUSIONS: We present a novel way of integrating photoaging in school-based melanoma prevention that affects the students' peer group, considers the predictors of UV exposure in accordance with the theory of planned behavior, and is particularly effective in changing behavioral predictors in fair-skinned adolescents (Fitzpatrick skin types 1-2). Further research is required to evaluate the intervention's prospective effects on adolescents of various cultural backgrounds.
Type of Publication:
Journal article published