Background: Appearance-based motivations may contribute to low adoption of sun protection behaviours in adolescents.
Aim: The aims of this study were to (1) investigate underlying themes in habitual sun-related behaviours reported by adolescents and (2) explore relationships with skin tone dissatisfaction, tanning intentions, and beliefs about the benefits and risks of sun tanning in an adolescent sample.
Methods: Analyses were conducted using data from the 2011 Adolescent Secondary Schools Alcohol and Drug Survey. In South Australia, data were available for 2875 students aged 12 to 17 years. Responses to questions about 7 sun-related behaviours were subjected to a principal components analysis to identify underlying factors. Bivariate correlations, run separately for males and females, examined patterns of associations between the resulting factors, skin tone dissatisfaction, tanning intentions, and several statements addressing beliefs about the desirability and risks of tanning.
Results: Sun-related behaviours could be reduced to three factors; Sun Protection (hat, sunscreen and wearing protective clothing), Appearance-enhancement (sunglasses and briefer clothing), and Shade Behaviour (seeking shade and time indoors). Appearance-enhancement was associated with higher skin tone dissatisfaction, stronger intentions to tan, stronger beliefs about the attractiveness of a tan, and perceived peer norms in support of tanning. These measures were associated with Sun Protection and Shade Behaviour but in the opposite direction. In general, misperceptions about the risks of tanning were more likely to be associated with Shade Behaviour (lower misperceptions) than with Sun Protection and Appearance-enhancement; however the patterns of associations with sun protection behaviours varied depending on the specific question and gender.
Conclusions: Sun-related behaviours in adolescents are not independent; they can be understood in terms of a smaller number of themes that may have different underlying motivations. Strategies to engage adolescents in sun protection should consider appearance-based motivations that encourage incidental sun protection (e.g., trendy hats and clothing).