Last week ushered in the official start of summer, and with it, some of the most dangerous days of the year in terms of sun-related skin damage. Imagine simply looking down at your wrist or your phone to know if you were in danger of burning. It’s a reality, with companies around the country having developed new wearable technologies to help users better ward off summer’s hazardous rays.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer and approximately 3.5 million diagnoses are made each year in the United States alone, according to the American Cancer Society. Melanoma “will account for more than 73,000 cases of skin cancer in 2015.”
“The main concerns associated with sun-related skin damage are the ultraviolet (UV) rays, UVA and UVB, given off by the sun. Exposure to both can cause damage to the DNA of cells in your skin and result in sunburns, aging of the skin, and cause the development of a variety of skin cancers,” says Dr. Ken Dutton-Regester, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, specializing in the genetics and mechanisms of drug resistance in melanoma.
While consumers often hear about the harms of sun exposure, there are benefits, as well, especially when it comes to helping the body synthesize Vitamin D. “Vitamin D is important for a variety of physiological process including a significant role in normal bone formation. When Vitamin D levels get low it can create a variety of health problems, from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) to more severe forms of disease such as Rickets, a weakening of the bones,” Dr. Dutton-Register says. Vitamin D can be taken in through diet and supplements, instead of relying on the sun.
Here, we take a look at some of the devices designed to protect users and better monitor their sun exposure.
Marketed as a “beauty device” to help prevent skin aging due to UV exposure, this jewel-like bracelet measures the user’s sun exposure. Through a paired app, users can monitor the UV index in their changing environment and get advice on protecting their skin. It also calculates a “sun dose” for the day, based on exposure to UV rays—when it reaches 100%, the user is in danger of a burn. The app sends notifications prior to reaching this level so the user can protect his/her skin. The unit is sweat and splash resistant but should not be submerged in water. The app is currently only compatible with iOS 7 and newer OS systems.
JUNE retails for $129 per unit. It is available in three colors.
2. Ultra Violet
This clip-on smart device pairs with an app to help measure and track UV exposure and daily Vitamin D production to “help users achieve optimal sun balance,” according to its site. The app allows users to be guided to their skin type or select the one that best matches their description. The small device can be conveniently clipped onto clothing or accessories. One of most unique features of Violet is its ability to let users create multiple profiles on the app for individual users, which is especially helpful for parents of younger children. The device then vibrates or sends a notification via the app when it’s time to reapply sunscreen or seek shade and has the added feature of telling users when to go outside.Violet is waterproof and compatible with Android and iOS.
Violet is currently available for pre-order for $99 and will begin shipping in August.
This wearable watch-like device has eleven customizable settings, which allow the user to set the sun-level appropriate for his or her skin sensitivity. It is aimed at allowing users to best harness the benefits of Vitamin D from the sun, without taking in too much harmful exposure. Its sensor takes readings of the environment to determine the UV levels. The device, which is waterproof, warns users by lighting up, before their skin burns, as a warning to seek protection. To function properly, the face of SunFriend needs to be exposed to the sun, face up, and can’t be obscured by clothing.
SunFriend retails for $49.99 per unit. It is available in five colors.
This app, designed for iPhones and iPads, allows users to check the UV index for their current location. However, its greatest asset is a UV forecast. The app provides information for a given region, which then allows users to make decisions about what they will wear and how long they’ll stay outdoors in areas with higher UV levels. By planning ahead, users can prepare to help protect their skin from harmful damage. The app claims it can give a UV forecast for “almost anywhere in the world,” so users can take it on vacation with them. It also provides tips on how to protect from a given UV level, recommending sunscreen SPF levels, clothing and sunburn times.
UVmeter retails for $0.99 in the Apple App Store.
This app takes into account just about everything imaginable to help guide users to sun safety. Using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for hourly forecasts, the app takes into account the user’s “location, environmental conditions, elevation, sunscreen SPF, clothing, and UV Index forecast,” according to its website. The app tracks how long a user has been exposed to the sun and notifies him or her when it’s time to reapply sunscreen or head indoors. It also offers tips about what clothing and accessories are appropriate for optimal protection, as well as warnings when sunburn risks are high.
sunZapp is available for free in both the Android Play Store and the Apple App Store. A pro version, which includes multiple profiles and a 5-day planner, is available for $1.99.
It’s often difficult to keep children mindful of when to reapply sunscreen as it is for adults to track when to do it for them. Sunburn Alert UV Stickers are an easy way to track time for reapplication based on SPF used. The user adheres the sticker on his or her body, puts sunscreen on both the skin and the sticker. Over time, the color of the sticker will fade indicating the need for more protection. Users simply reapply sunscreen to body and sticker to keep the sticker from fading further. The sticker will notify users when they’ve reached maximum sun exposure for the day, by turning a cream color. They are waterproof and work with any type of sunscreen—cream, lotion or spray—and should be disposed of after one day.
A 12-pack of Sunburn Alert UV Stickers currently retails for $12.
While generally Dr. Dutton-Regester believes devices such as these are a “good thing,” he also cautions against some of their potential problems. “Overall, these devices are a great tool for making users aware of their sun exposure and general awareness of their skin. However, like with any wearable technology, a significant proportion of the successful use of these products lies in the responsibility of the user providing the product with accurate information, using the product correctly, and engaging with the product in a way that they change their behavior accordingly.”
Similarly, with the devices that help monitor Vitamin D, Dr. Dutton-Regester says, “It’s important to note that these current technologies are based on scientific algorithms or ‘estimations’ of how much Vitamin D your body is producing, rather than the more accurate, direct and robust measures of using serum levels in the blood. As such, users should be cautious of some company claims that tend to be overambitious in regards to how their product can improve their health or find optimum levels of Vitamin D.”
Dr. Dutton-Regester recommends a combination of protective clothing (including hats, sunglasses, long sleeved shirts), reapplying sunscreen and seeking shade between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. He stresses that regular self-exams are equally important, and individuals should seek out medical professionals to help with early detection of skin cancer.
For those looking for a little help in keeping their skin free of burns and healthy this summer, these devices are a helpful starting point.
As one of MedTech Boston's editorial interns, Lisa covers events, contributes photography and feature stories to the site and manages social media. She recently received her Master of Science in Journalism from Boston University. Lisa also earned her Bachelor of Arts from BU, with a degree in English and Philosophy. She has written for multiple campus publications, in addition to interning at Boston magazine.
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