Face-Aging App May Aid in Skin Cancer Prevention Among Adolescents

By Kaitlyn D’Onofrio - Last Updated: May 6, 2020

A new study found that face-aging apps may increase skin cancer protection behavior among adolescents, thereby reducing their risk of skin cancer.

The study authors noted the worldwide increase in melanoma incidence, adding that up to 90% of cases are attributable to UV exposure, in particular severe sunburns—making them highly preventable.

“Because the risk of skin cancer is particularly strongly associated with cumulative UV exposure and sunburns early in life, several experimental studies aiming at promoting UV protection behaviors among adolescents and young adults have been conducted,” they wrote. “A school environment provides unique opportunities to propel skin cancer prevention.”

The present study was a cluster-randomized clinical trial to evaluate the effect of Sunface, a free face-aging mobile app, on adolescents in 52 classes within eight public secondary schools (grades 9 through 12) in Brazil. Medical students used the Sunface app to alter students’ selfies to show them how UV would affect their future faces, which were shown to the class. The students then received UV protection information. Anonymous questionnaires were collected pre-intervention and three and six months post-intervention. The main outcome measure was the difference in daily sunscreen use at six-month follow-up. Secondary outcomes included the difference in daily sunscreen use at three-month follow-up, at least one skin self-examination within six months, and at least one tanning session in the previous 30 days.

A total of 1,573 students (mean age, 15.9 years; 51.6% were female) participated in the study. In the intervention group, 15.0% of students (n=110/734) reported daily sunscreen use; this rose to 22.9% (n=139/607) at six-month follow-up. Similarly, in the intervention group, the proportion of students who performed at least one skin self-examination increased from 25.1% (n=184/734) to 49.4% (n=300/607), and tanning use decreased from 18.8% (n=138/734) to 15.2% (n=92/607). The control group did not present any significant changes. Females were more affected by the intervention than males (number needed to treat for the primary endpoint: females, 8; males, 31).

The results of the study were published in JAMA Dermatology.

“We observed improvements during a 6-month period in skin cancer protection behavior among the participating students in response to the intervention. We therefore consider the face-aging, app-based skin cancer prevention strategy promising and plan to pursue it in further studies,” the researchers stated.