L’Oréal is ready to help sun-lovers in the UK pay closer attention to UV exposure through a battery-free wearable that can be worn on your clothes – and even on an Apple Watch.
The My Skin Track UV, which is launching under the beauty giant's skincare brand, La Roche-Posay, is now on sale through Apple's online and select stores after it launched in the US last November.
It's been developed inside of the Tech Incubator research and development lab, which has already produced two stretchable UV sensors and is also developing a wearable that can detect your skin's pH level to recommend appropriate skincare.
It's been a team effort making the Skin Track UV wearable a reality, and we're not just talking about the 35-member group working on future projects at that development lab. Yves Béhar, who previously flexed his designer muscles in wearables through Jawbone's UP fitness trackers, helped dream up the look of the discreet, elegant device, which comes in signature La Roche-Posay colours. Professor John Rogers, from Northwestern University, who worked on two wearable companies developing flexible stretchable electronics previously, also played a crucial part in bringing the UV-detecting wearable to life.
"I've been wearing wearables all my life, but I wanted something different, something cool, unique and innovative," says Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal's Incubator Hub. "We had to make something people would want to wear. The fact it is also battery-free opens the door of what wearables can now be."
To make something people would want to wear and that was beautiful, Balooch turned to Béhar and his Fuseproject design firm. "I looked at this project very much from a technical side, so design wasn't the first thing I thought about," Balooch said. "Working with Yves helped me realise we have to design something that is unobtrusive. But also, that if it's too small it might fall off. Or, if it's too big, it's not going to feel like it's innovative. Everything about the design was meticulous."
That design, at one point, took the prototype form of a sensor that could be worn on a fingernail, and Balooch told us that the first version of the Skin Track UV wearable was thinner than the version that's now on sale. Ultimately, though, it was about striking the right balance between a discreet form factor, while still delivering something that the team promised.
Then there was the role of Rogers, who Balooch met seven years ago, around the same time he started the beauty tech team at L’Oréal. "John is doing things that other people aren't doing today in wearables," he told us. "I remember when he put this electronic tattoo on me and I remember being blown away. You just didn't see it or feel it."
L'Oreal unveiled its UV Sense wearable prototype in January 2018
While Balooch was passionate about offering this elegant, unobtrusive way to help people become more aware of UV exposure, making this a battery-free device was a crucial piece of the puzzle to ensure people wore it all of the time. And it's an issue that the wearable industry on the whole has struggled with.
"We’ve seen consumers ask, 'Do we need another charger, how many chargers do I need?' Having these very small, discreet wearables that don't need charging is so exciting. It's starting to back up the innovation that is happening in the wearable space right now," he said.
That innovation Balooch talks about refers to watch and band-like devices that he believes are now offering features that are not only groundbreaking, but also serve a purpose. While he didn't make references to a particular device, it's clear that the Apple Watch is one of those watch-like devices Balooch is talking about.
Although he doesn't see his device replacing Apple's smartwatch, he does see it as one you wear alongside – or even on – it.
"I have an Apple Watch and I didn’t want it to compete with my Apple Watch. I would have to choose and I don’t want to choose. So, we actually started clipping it to the band on the Apple Watch," Balooch explained.
The sensor concealed within the My Skin Track UV's tiny body is there to serve one purpose only, and that's to measure both UVA and UVB rays. Within the companion app, you'll also get insights into levels of air quality and pollen. Balooch says it uses an air quality index similar to what Dyson uses to pull in that additional data to the app. It's already looking at what sensors it can introduce to the tiny form factor that can help it become more useful in the future.
"One of the things we're interested in is visible light and blue light," he said. "Not just only for beauty reasons, but for health and wellness too. How much capability can add into this shouldn't take away the beauty of the product. But yes, we are looking at the sensors we can put in here."
For now, the focus is on a successful rollout of this wearable, and, for Balooch, a measure for success is simple.
"My job was measuring something people care about and creating a product that people would use. If I can just get a few people that have people with melanoma in their family, who get this information that changes their behaviour, that's what it's all about."