The Use of Commercially Available Personal UV-meters Does Cause Less Safe Tanning Habits: A Randomized-controlled Trial


*e-mail: (Emanuele Crocetti)


UV Index information is currently recommended as a vehicle to raise public awareness about the risk of sun-exposure. It remains unknown to what extent this information can change personal sun-protective behavior. The aim of the study was to analyze the effects of UV-Index (UV-I) information provided by low cost, commercially available UV-I sensors on major indicators of sun-tanning behavior. A randomized-controlled trial was carried out on 94 healthy volunteers aged 21–23 years. After the exclusion of subjects with photosensitive disorders (n = 3), 91 subjects were randomized in two arms after stratification based on phototype and sex. Both arms received a diary to be filled every day with a log of intentional sun-exposure during summer. Subjects in the intervention group also received a commercially available UV-I sensor. The UV-I sensors were switched on and the UV-value was recorded in 77% of days with sun-exposure. During days of sun-exposure, subjects randomized to the intervention group had longer average time of sun-exposure (227.7 vs 208.7 min per day, P = 0.003), also between noon and 4 pm (P < 0.001), and less frequently adopted sun protective measures than controls (hat [6.4%vs 10.2%, P = 0.007], sunglasses [23.9%vs 30.8%, P = 0.003], sunscreen [41.4%vs 47.2%, P = 0.02]) and they experienced more frequent sunburns (27.8%vs 21.5%, P = 0.004). The odd ratio of sunburns was 1.60 for subjects in the intervention group compared with controls (after adjustment for sex, sunscreen use and skin type). The mean UV-I value recorded by volunteers was lower (5.6 [SD ± 0.9]) than that (7.3 [SD ± 0.46]) recorded by a professional instrument in the same period at the same latitude. Poststudy laboratory tests showed that the sensor was able to detect only about 60% of the solar diffuse radiation. The use of UV-I sensors changed the sun protective behavior of sunbathers in the direction of less use of sun protective measures. One possible explanation is that the low cost UV-meters may have functioned incorrectly and under-reported UV exposure. This may have led to an underestimation of UV-I values, erroneously reassuring subjects and causing a less protective sunbathing behavior. Another hypothesis relies on a cognitive pitfall in the subjects’ dealing with intermediate UV-I values, as they may have been discouraged in the use of sunscreen as they did not feel that they had yet been exposed to very harmful UV radiation.