Beach Chairs Cancun - Flickr

Whether it is kicking off the summer or squeezing in a vacation as it ends. Along with it comes backyard barbecues, sunbathing, and a variety of other activities that involve extended sun exposure. Although many people seek this time in the sun and don’t mind the occasional sunburn that can come with it, they sometimes forget that it can be harmful. Sun exposure has become a major health issue, with 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers being associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Because the time it takes to get burned depends on many factors, it is not easy to tell when to seek shade. To help people stay safe, researchers report in ACS Sensors the development of a paper-based sunburn sensor for monitoring sun exposure given different skin tones and sunscreen levels.

Most current UV sensors require high-tech gadgets to operate, such as smartphones or wearable devices. Recently, single-use, disposable sunburn sensors have come onto the market. However, some of these sensors use substances that are potentially harmful to people or the environment. Others are only good for specific skin tones. Consequently, J. Justin Gooding and colleagues saw this as an opportunity to create a disposable, inexpensive sunburn sensor. This sensor is composed entirely of safe and benign materials, and it can be easily calibrated to take into account different skin tones and SPFs of sunscreens that are applied on the skin.

Gooding and his colleagues created a sun-exposure sensor by inkjet printing titanium dioxide, a nontoxic and inexpensive compound, and a food dye on paper. When enough UV radiation hits the sensor, titanium dioxide causes the dye to change color, warning people to get out of the sun or apply more sunscreen. To adjust the sensor for various skin tones and sunscreen use, the group added UV neutral density filters that can speed up or slow down the discoloration time of the sensor.

If you would prefer a stretchable sunburn sensor that you can wear, then look to L’Oréal. Its leading dermatological skincare brand, La Roche-Posay, has introduced a first-of-its kind stretchable electronic sensor, My UV Patch. The patch is a transparent adhesive that, unlike the rigid wearables currently on the market, stretches and adheres directly to any area of skin that consumers want to monitor. Measuring approximately one square inch in area and 50 micrometers thick – half the thickness of an average strand of hair – the patch contains photosensitive dyes that factor in the baseline skin tone and change colors when exposed to UV rays to indicate varying levels of sun exposure.

Consumers will be able to take a photo of the patch and upload it to the La Roche-Posay My UV Patch mobile app, which analyzes the varying photosensitive dye squares to determine the amount of UV exposure the wearer has received. The My UV Patch mobile app will be available on both iOS and Android, incorporating Near Field Communications (NFC)-enabled technology into the patch-scanning process for Android. My UV Patch is expected to be made available to consumers later this year.

“Connected technologies have the potential to completely disrupt how we monitor the skin’s exposure to various external factors, including UV,” says Guive Balooch, Global Vice President of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator. “Previous technologies could only tell users the amount of potential sun exposure they were receiving per hour while wearing a rigid, non-stretchable device. The key was to design a sensor that was thin, comfortable and virtually weightless so people would actually want to wear it. We’re excited to be the first beauty company entering the stretchable electronics field and to explore the many potential applications for this technology within our industry and beyond.”

Alysa Herman, MD explained, “La Roche-Posay recently commissioned a global study in 23 countries, which surveyed 19,000 women and men and found a huge gap in consumer behavior: even though 92 percent were aware that unprotected sun exposure can cause health problems, only 26 percent of Americans protect themselves all year round, whatever the season. With the new My UV Patch, for the first time, we are leveraging technology to help incite a true behavioral change through real-time knowledge.”

My UV Patch was developed by L’Oréal’s U.S.-based Technology Incubator, a business division dedicated entirely to technological innovation, alongside MC10, Inc., a leading stretchable electronics company using cutting-edge innovation to create the most intelligent, stretchable systems for biometric healthcare analytics.

Whether you’re planning to work on your tan at the beach, attend a barbecue at a friend’s house, or relax on the patio, you will have some new medical technology to help you be safe in the sun. You just need to decide whether you want it to be stretchable or disposable.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Beach Chairs, Cancun, Flickr)