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Could fashionable wearable devices and apps finally convince us to wear more sunscreen?

Wearable devices are not just for tracking fitness and overall health. Some are providing much more specific information and recommendations.


We all know that too much exposure to the sun without protection causes damage to our skin. But that doesn’t mean most people do anything about it.

The American Cancer Society reports that 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States. And according to a May report from the CDC, less than one third of Americans use sunscreen regularly.

Clearly, a warning about the dangers of sun damage isn’t enough to inspire people to protect themselves. So what’s the solution? In the booming wearables market, different approaches to this problem are emerging, and some are leaning on the appeal of fashion.

One example, although it’s specifically marketed to women with a focus on anti-aging, is the JUNE wearable device bracelet. UV sensors monitor sun exposure and connect with a free iOS app that provides the expected UV index, UV radiation on a scale from 0 to 15 and recommendations for sunscreen use and whether or not to wear sunglasses. The $129 device has a battery that stays charged for about a month and then can be recharged with a specialized USB.

Users fill out a questionnaire about skin tone, hair and eye color and how their skin reacts to the sun in order to customize the recommendations.

The New York Time‘s Jennifer Jolly tested out the JUNE device, among others, and shared about her experience.

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An hourlong midday trail run near Oakland, Calif., where the average UV rating has been a steady 8 or 9, provides around 70 percent of my recommended sun dose for the day. JUNE also recommends sunscreen with SPF 30 and sunglasses. During a one-and-a-half-hour walk under a cloudy sky, JUNE reported just 5 percent of maximum exposure, and showed that SPF 15 was ample protection. Wearing JUNE definitely made me more conscious of the sun and of not frying my skin.

Another similar wearable device that is set to come out in August is called Violet. As Jolly describes it, it’s a small, waterproof clip-on tracker that offers real-time UV exposure, alerts about potential skin damage and a calculation of daily natural vitamin D production.

Jolly also tried some less expensive options, like UVSunSense wristbands ($7.40 for seven bands) and Sunburn Alert stickers ($12 for a 12 pack). Both are designed to change colors when it’s time to put on more sunscreen or get out of the sun. She reported that the wristbands came off as soon as they got wet and even when she applied sunscreen. The same was true for the stickers.

There are other technologies designed for the same purpose but don’t include a wearable device, like the new app called sunZapp. The app, which was developed with funding from the National Cancer Institute, provides information based on your particular location. It combines National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hour-by-hour UV Index forecast with a user’s personal information to customize the recommendations. It also takes into account hair and eye color, skin tone, age, sun-sensitive medications and the type of clothing you are wearing for a particular outing.

Jolly tried this app as well, and although it gave frequent recommendations to reapply sunscreen, she said it doesn’t have an alert feature for notifications, so you have to open the app each time to see what it recommends.

Although these apps and devices can be helpful to protect from sun damage, the challenge is actually getting people to use them. According to a January report in JAMA Dermatology, the number of users for these types of mobile applications was less than expected.

“We confuse education with inspiration,” said Dr. Joseph Kevdar, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard University Medical School, according to The Times. “We think reminding you to use sunscreen, cover up, and educating you as to why it’s a good idea is enough, but most of the time, that’s not the case.”

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