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Mobile App Increases Sun Protection? Yes, Studies Say

by Will / February, 4 2015 01:30

Let's just say off the bat that we were a little skeptical.  How does a smartphone app improve sun protection?  This must be a joke I thought...but no, two studies actually bear this out according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).


What Does The App Actually Do?

That's the first question that jumps to my mind - how can an app actually improve sun protection?  After all, it doesn't provide shade, clothing or sunblock.  It turns out the app, called SolarCell, is an alert and information system.  It both gives advice on how to protect yourself from the sun and provides alerts on when to use it.

The cool part is these alerts are customized based on the day's UV index, the time of day and the user's location.  So it will alert you when to apply sunscreen, when to get out of the sun, how much vitamin D your body is producing and so on.


First Study

Ok, so we know what the app was supposed to do.  Next up, how did they do the research?  The first study was conducted in 2012 in a randomize clinical trial of 604 adults.  Over three months these adults who were split into a treatment group (I think this means the group who had the app) and a control group (believe this means a group without the app which is needed to establish if the app helps) were studied.  Specifically: 

Percentage of days using sun protection and time spent outdoors (days and minutes) in the midday sun and number of sunburns in the past 3 months were collected.


It actually worked!!  I can't quite believe it, but it did.  Here's what the study says:

  • Use of the mobile app was lower than expected but associated with increased sun protection
  • Individuals in the treatment group reported more shade use but less sunscreen use
  • There was no significant difference in number of sunburns in the past 3 months
  • Those who used the mobile app reported spending less time in the sun and used all protection behaviors combined more

I think that's pretty cool.  An app can actually help protect you from the sun.  Sounds like it's tough to get people to use the app but if they do, it helps.


Second Study

In the second study the researchers attempted to attack the usage problem.  To do this they used a volunteer sample of 202 adults.  This compares to a randomized sample used in the previous study.  I assume the belief is that a volunteer is more likely to use the app?  In any event, they then evaluated the volunteers at both 3 week and 8 week intervals.  From there the researchers collected the same data they did in the first study to keep it comparable:

Percentage of days with the use of sun protection, time spent outdoors in the midday sun (days and hours), and the number of sunburns in the last 3 months.


Success again!! The researchers got more people to use the app and greater use led to greater sun protection.  Some interesting specifics emerged:

  • Overall it worked but it was still difficult to get people to use the app
  • Participants in the intervention group used wide-brimmed hats more at 7 weeks than control participants
  • Women who used the mobile application reported using all sun protection combined more than men
  • Men and older individuals reported less use of sunscreen and hats


Bottom Line

The studies show while a mobile app can increase sun protection measures, getting people to use the app is tough.  I guess that shouldn't be terribly surprising.  I have a ton of apps on my phone that I never use.  That said I do like anything that reminds folks to use sun protection.

Fortunately for me, my business is sun protection making it pretty hard to forget but if you have trouble remembering.  Maybe setting a daily reminder on your phone is all you need...

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