What is a UV camera?

A UV Camera shows damage under the surface of the skin.

We’ve all seen the gruesome ads sponsored by the Truth people about the long-term dangers of smoking: smokers who can only speak through special handheld devices and internal organs blackened by the tar that builds up from smoking. But these are just some of the examples I’ve seen on TV. Unfortunately, these scare tactics don’t seem to work. Dermatologists are battling a similar problem in their quest to reduce tanning behaviors, especially among young people. Scare tactics depicting possible skin cancers, oftentimes deadly melanoma, don’t seem to work. Do you know what does seem to work? Using appearance based interventions to target young people today with things like a UV camera.

Young People Are At Risk

Young people don’t think about the future health consequences of tanning and sun exposure because they may not see the results of these behaviors until 20, 30, or 40 years later. They are more worried about being tan at the prom. They see tan celebrities, their friends are probably tan, and they don’t want to stand out. Consequently, we need to drive home the point that tan is not healthy. It’s only healthy if that’s your natural skin tone. There are millions of testimonials out there about how melanoma kills.

Did you know this terrifying statistic? Melanoma is the most common cancer in people aged 25-29 and the second most common cancer in those aged 15-29. But like I said before, scare tactics about possible cancers don’t work. Knowing that you will be weathered and wrinkly before you should seems to work a lot better.

Appearance-Based Interventions in Dermatology

Appearance-based interventions use methods that highlight how your appearance will change from chronic sun exposure in order to drive the point home about possible bad consequences. One way to do this is to use a UV camera that can show a person exactly how much UV damage they have. Another way is to show them how photoaging manifests itself in the way of uneven pigmentation, wrinkles, and age spots.

The UV camera can show a person exactly where the signs of sun damage are lying right under the skin. They come up as darkly pigmented spots. The UV camera can also show where you’ve applied your sunscreen. There are always spots left uncovered by sunscreen because it can be difficult to apply everywhere.


17-year-old Compare this 18 month old baby to the 17 year old girl below. https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/younger-skin/sun-damage

How does the UV camera work?

UV light is preferentially absorbed by melanin in the skin. Melanin is what gives your skin its color. When you take a photograph with a UV camera, the melanin deposited under the skin will come out darker. Hence, these are the dark blotches on people’s faces that are obvious in UV photography. Increased melanin production is a direct consequence of UV damage. Your skin reacts to sun exposure by creating more melanin to absorb the UV rays.

I was really excited when I saw the videos about sun exposure and UV photography constantly circulating on Facebook a few months ago. This is a powerful method of education. Therefore it needs to be used in every dermatologist and primary care doctor’s office. These interventions have the power to avoid a lot of pain and suffering in the future for the young people of today.

Have you ever wondered how much sun damage may be lurking under your skin? Have you taken steps to prevent sun damage since learning about the possibility of photoaging?



  1. Mahler HI, Kulik JA, Gerrard M, Gibbons FX. Long-term effects of appearance-based interventions on sun protection behaviors. Health Psychol. 2007;26:350-60.
  2. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
  3. Pictures: https://www.aad.org/public/skin-hair-nails/younger-skin/sun-damage


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