Sun and Social Media
Can being an avid social media user help reduce your risk of skin cancer?
A study conducted by the University of South Australia has found that social media is helping to change how people feel about what is known as the "tanned ideal."
The study tested how social media can influence people's perceptions of tanning, and found that the better a person's ability to access and evaluate social media posts, the less likely they are to see golden, tanned skin as the marker of beauty or attractiveness.
The first-of-its-kind study has revealed that people with higher media literacy were less likely to make comparisons of themselves to the "tanned ideal." In contrast, those who had lower media skills were more likely to compare themselves with tanned images.
The researchers believe their findings can help educate the population about sun safety.
"Many people hold tanned skin as beautiful, especially in the summertime, despite knowing the risks of sun damage and skin cancer," said Dr. Mayli Davis of Colleyville, Texas.
Texans, like Australians, are exposed to high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
"People in areas of high UV exposure are at risk of developing skin cancer," Davis said.
But, the challenge is that people see tanned skin on social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook and picture their own image against the tanned images they see.
The problem is, most of these images have been digitally enhanced, Davis said.
"Many people then seek out the sun or tan in tanning beds to try to achieve that image from social media or advertisements," Davis said.
Increasing social media literacy skills helps researchers and others increase people's understanding about how images are edited. This can help reduce the desire to achieve the tanned ideal.
Additionally, the researchers believe that developing messages about sun safety can help reduce the desire to achieve the perfect tan because of concerns about sun damage and skin cancer.
Skin cancer affects millions each year around the world and is the most common cancer worldwide.
During the study, researchers analyzed the response of 151 young Australian adults (61 male and 90 females, aged 18-29) regarding a set of social media posts featuring tan and paler-skinned models.
The most common skin type featured was Fitzpatrick skin Type III (45 percent). People with this skin type often react to the sun with freckling, occasional sunburn and sometimes tanning.
The media literacy of the participants was determined by the Media Attitudes Questionnaire, or MAQ, adapted to test media literacy regarding the tanned ideal.
Their findings showed that, on average, participants used social media for nearly three hours a day (173 minutes), between Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat.
Source: University of South Australia. "Tone down your risk of skin cancer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 February 2020.