02:12am Sunday 15 December 2019

Skin cancer risk link to negative body image

YOUNG adults who think they are not as attractive as their peers are at a far greater risk of getting skin cancer.

Psychologists have demonstrated that a negative body image is linked to skin cancer, with many young adults gambling with their skin’s health by basking unprotected in powerful UV rays.

Men and women who rate themselves as being ‘not attractive’ tend to spend longer in the sun and do not apply sun cream, although men are more likely to adopt this risky behaviour.

Authors of the study, published in the journal Health Psychology, from Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), Harvard Medical School and Staffordshire University, believe the dangerous behaviour could be driven by two factors.

UV risk

MMU body image psychologist Professor Sarah Grogan said: “Those with more negative appearance evaluations engage in more risky UV-related behaviours, which is putting them at a far greater risk of skin cancer.

“The amount of time they spent in the sun was firmly linked with their evaluation of their appearance: people who had a negative evaluation of their appearance spent more time in the sun.

“One possible explanation is that people feel more attractive if they look sun tanned because it is perceived as being more attractive. They feel it reduces skin imperfections, and helps them to look slender and toned.

“Or they’re willing to take risks because they don’t evaluate their appearance very highly and care less about what happens to their body.”


Information on 1,555 young adults – 873 men and 662 women – aged between 24-32 was extracted from The National Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative survey in the US which asks a range of health-related questions.

Participants were quizzed on how long they spent in the sun and had been sunburned, especially during summer, and if they used sun cream on sunny days. This was analysed against their appearance evaluation where they were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1-5, from ‘very attractive’ to ‘not at all attractive’.

It is the first study of its kind to demonstrate a link between negative body image and increased skin cancer risk. Previous studies have shown that negative appearance is linked to smoking, low physical activity and sexual behaviour risks.

Manchester Metropolitan University is a leading university for the professions and a powerful driver of the North West economy.

The University educates and trains large numbers of the region’s legal and business professionals, scientists, engineers, teachers, health workers and creative professionals. It enjoys an excellent reputation for teaching and applied research and is a recognised innovator in partnership working with its local communities. The University is currently investing almost £300 million in its estate and facilities.

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