Wearable Sun-Protection Devices

Surely no one has failed to get the message that protecting yourself from the strong rays of the sun is one key way to avoid skin cancer. Just as surely, lots of people still fail to slather on sufficient sunscreen and/or cover up with clothing.

Here’s another way to nag them into compliance: wearable sun-protection devices.

The enemy in the skin-cancer war is the ultraviolet radiation the sun provides in abundance. UV radiation encompasses both the UVA and UVB wavelengths that penetrate the ozone layer and reach the earth … and you. Both cause skin and eye damage, and can suppress the immune system, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 3.5 million cases of skin cancer in the U.S. each year, but fewer than 1 in 3 people use sunscreen regularly.

Last month, the New York Times reviewed a few products that just might help to save your skin.


This new jewel-like device can be worn as a bracelet or a brooch to monitor sun exposure throughout the day. Paired with a free iOS app, you get a daily sun forecast of the expected UV index, which is a measure of the expected risk of UV radiation from the sun on a scale from 0 to 15.

Users complete a short questionnaire that asks about natural eye and hair color, skin tone and how skin responds to sun without protection. These data are crunched by the JUNE app to produce tailored daily “sun dose” reports.

JUNE ($129) is the first such device to blend newer tracking technology with sun protection, but competitors are on the horizon, such as Violet, a small, waterproof clip-on tracker that’s supposed to offer real-time UV exposure, alerts about potential skin damage and calculations about daily natural vitamin D production.


These are lower tech and inexpensive wristbands or stickers that change color when it’s time to reapply sunscreen or get out of the sun. UVSunSense wristbands ($7.40 for seven bands) have a sticker backing that holds it on your wrist, but they don’t seem to adhere well when you’re sweaty or when you spray sunscreen on it (which the directions advise). Sunburn Alert stickers ($12 for a 12 pack) work a bit better, but still don’t remain in place when you get into the water.

Smartphone Apps

Turn your smartphone into a sun warning system with sunZapp, developed with funding from the National Cancer Institute. It combines location-based information, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s hour-by-hour UV Index forecast, with the user’s personal information (hair, eye color, skin tone, age, sun-sensitive medications etc.).

The app shows how long it will take you toget sunburned on a given day and offers specific precautions (“wear sunglasses, use sunscreen, cover up”). It counts down the minutes until it is time to reapply sunscreen.

The sunZapp app is available in a free or a Pro version with additional user profiles ($1.99) that don’t require redoing the questionnaire each time. The drawback is the app’s lack of alarms or other notifications when it is time to reapply sunscreen on.

Other apps include simple location-based UV index information, such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s free Sunwise UV Index. Others, including Block (99 cents) or Nevus ($1.99), sound an alarm on your smartphone when it’s time to reapply sunscreen.

People do love their gadgets, but as The Times story noted, “[T]he real challenge will be getting people to use them.” A recent report in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (JAAD) showed mixed results on the effect of electronic reminders to use sunscreen. “People who used the app used more sun protection techniques than those who didn’t,” the paper reported, “but overall use of the app was lower than expected.”

“We confuse education with inspiration,” Dr. Joseph Kevdar, an associate professor of dermatology at Harvard University Medical School, told the paper. “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.”

To learn more about skin cancer, link here for the skin cancer facts page of the American Cancer Society.

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