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Those Viral, Graphic Skin Cancer Selfies Actually Encourage Skin Checks

Allure logo Allure 12/12/2017 Macaela Mackenzie
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One Kentucky woman is being counted in a class with Angelina Jolie after sharing graphic selfies of her skin cancer helped inspire more people to get screened for the deadly disease.

When Angelina Jolie went public about her preventative double mastectomy in 2013, it sparked a sea change. Thanks to the face-the-facts discussion she started by sharing the intimate details of her medical history, the number of women who got tested for the BRCA 1/2 gene over the following two years doubled, according to a 2014 study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research. Researchers called it the "Angelina Effect.”

Now, researchers are observing a similar phenomenon in the wake of a graphic photo posted by Tawny Willoughby in 2015, reports the Daily Mail.

Willoughby, a frequent user of tanning beds who was diagnosed with skin cancer when she was 21-years-old, posted a graphic selfie showing an extremely blistered face that resulted from treatment for her battle with basal cell carcinoma. "If anyone needs a little motivation to not lay in the tanning bed and sun here ya go! This is what skin cancer treatment can look like. Wear sunscreen and get a spray tan. Learn from other people's mistakes," she wrote in a post that was shared over 105,000 times.

What's particularly interesting about Willoughby's case is that unlike Jolie, she's just your average social media user — an argument for the power a simple social media post can have. "We conclude that an ordinary person's social media post caught the public's imagination and led to significant increases in public engagement with skin cancer prevention," the study states.

The moral of the story (besides the fact that tanning causes skin cancer) is that social media can be a powerful platform for health PSAs. Where even the most convincing studies and statistics can seem dry, you can't really argue with a graphic photo shared on social media. Seeing the damage with your own eyes is enough to make you reach for the sunscreen.

WATCH: Tips For Safe Self Tanning

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