Photoaging Mobile Apps as a Novel Opportunity for Melanoma Prevention : Pilot Study

Background: Around 90% of melanomas are caused by ultraviolet (UV) exposure and are therefore eminently preventable. Unhealthy tanning behavior is mostly initiated in early adolescence, often with the belief that it increases attractiveness; the problems related to skin atrophy and malignant melanoma are too far in the future to fathom. Photoaging desktop programs, in which an image is altered to predict future appearance, have been successful in positively influencing behavior in adiposity or tobacco prevention settings.
Objective: To develop and test a photoaging app designed for melanoma prevention.
Methods: We harnessed the widespread availability of mobile phones and adolescents’ interest in appearance to develop a free mobile app called Sunface. This app has the user take a self-portrait (ie, a selfie), and then photoages the image based on Fitzpatrick skin type and individual UV protection behavior. Afterward, the app explains the visual results and aims at increasing self-competence on skin cancer prevention by providing guideline recommendations on sun protection and the ABCDE rule for melanoma self-detection. The underlying aging algorithms are based on publications showing UV-induced skin damage by outdoor as well as indoor tanning. To get a first impression on how well the app would be received in a young target group, we included a total sample of 25 students in our cross-sectional pilot study with a median age of 22 (range 19-25) years of both sexes (11/25, 44% female; 14/25, 56% male) attending the University of Essen in Germany.
Results: The majority of enrolled students stated that they would download the app (22/25, 88%), that the intervention had the potential to motivate them to use sun protection (23/25, 92%) and that they thought such an app could change their perceptions that tanning makes you attractive (19/25, 76%). Only a minority of students disagreed or fully disagreed that they would download such an app (2/25, 8%) or that such an app could change their perceptions on tanning and attractiveness (4/25, 16%).
Conclusions: Based on previous studies and the initial study results presented here, it is reasonable to speculate that the app may induce behavioral change in the target population. Further work is required to implement and examine the effectiveness of app-based photoaging interventions within risk groups from various cultural backgrounds.


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