This new sunburn solution taps into the deep science of UV rays

For when you’re seeking the shade
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A fetching hankie on the head only cuts it for so long and as temperatures soar across Europe, ultraviolet detectors are in vogue. Shade is the latest to hit the market.

Founder Emmanuel Dumont says the disc-like device’s technology is proven to be thirty times more sensitive than any other device on the market. A bold claim. Designed to help people better protect themselves against the sun, Shade promises an “ultra-accurate, ultra-precise, real-time measurement” of UV exposure - and it delivers, drawing on decades of UV research.

Low-cost UV sensors have been around for over 60 years, Dumont says, but because they were developed for germicidal and bactericidal applications (i.e. to sense bacteria, viruses and other pathogens) they don’t adhere to the “spectral sensitivity” of UV in relation to skin and sunburn.

“Our scientific breakthrough is that we’ve developed the right photodetector and the right filter to mimic human skin. And Shade is the first low-cost UV sensor in the world to measure UV radiation with the same sensitivity [as skin],” he says.

This new sunburn solution taps into the deep science of UV rays

Burning inspiration

Shade is inspired and informed by the work of British professor Brian L Diffey. In the 1980s, the seminal photobiology scientist researched the wavelengths in UVA and UVB and discovered that the skin will burn 1,000 times sooner from the same amount of UVB as UVA.

As a result, argues Dumont, UV detectors should give “exponentially more weight to UVB than to UVA”, which is exactly what Shade does.

“Other sensors give results that are wildly wrong with detectors that are more sensitive to UVA than to UVB. Some of them are off by more than one order of magnitude, so you can imagine the consequences for the skin. Their sensitivity to UV is nothing close to the human skin’s sensitivity,” he says. While other detectors offer an accuracy that doesn’t exceed 8%, Shade offers 85%, he claims.

As well as harbouring a sensor that measures both UVA and UVB, the device also sets itself apart by being able to read UV in any situation; outdoors and in. Shade is even sensitive enough to pick up UV rays from light bulbs.

This video (above) compares the UV measurements of Shade with the Microsoft Band UV Tile and Netatmo June. The minute-long explainer shows the team placing a short-wave UV lamp against each device, with only Shade able to measure UV exposure.

Real-time sunburn

Shade’s science isn’t its only nifty element. It uses a magnet to attach to bags and clothing; it has five days of battery; it will notify you with a buzz when you’re getting close to your UV limit; and the device can be instructed to take into account that you’re already wearing sunscreen.

Shade also provides what Dumont calls “real-time patient awareness”; the capacity via its app to provide insight into an individual’s personal sensitivity to UV.

“UV sensitivity depends on a variety of factors, from genetics and phenotypes to medication and past UV exposure. The Shade app enables anyone to fine-tune how much UV exposure they would like to manage. This is crucial. When someone is taking a photosensitive drug, for example, she needs to be able to manage a personalized, lower amount of UV. And we are the only company doing that.”

This bespoke element has drawn huge praise from groups of sufferers from lesser known skin ailments, such as the lupus community. The autoimmune disorder makes people sensitive to UV. It was lupus, specifically the difficulties patients confront trying to prevent flares triggered by sunlight, that actually led Dumont to take on the task of making UV measurement both mobile and affordable.

Shannon Boxx, three-time Olympic gold medallist and U.S. national soccer player, tried the device and has pointed out that being able to measure her daily UV exposure was a big help in managing her condition while being an active athlete.

This new sunburn solution taps into the deep science of UV rays

Funding the sun

Medicine is also on the side of Shade; as the UV sensor technology has been sponsored from the word go by the US National Cancer Institute’s Small Business Innovation Research development centre. It's a funding program that provides resources to small businesses that are developing innovative tech that could improve people’s quality of life.

NCI-SBIR’s aim, Dr Patti Weber, program director, explains, is to facilitate small business’ cancer research “from lab to clinic” to ultimately reduce the burden of the disease. Shade received funding from the NCI for running a clinical trial for the device’s ability to prevent actinic keratosis, which is oftentimes considered as a precursor to skin cancers.

“In order for Shade to confirm that wearing the sensor can reduce incidence of skin cancer the company would need to perform a series of other clinical trials and ultimately, the FDA’s approval for the indication,” Weber adds.

SBIR funding is very unique, says Dumont, because it funds bold research projects with an impact on a public health issue without asking for a licensing fee, like a University, or a piece of the company, like an investor.

The success of Shade would be a major win for the NCI and SBIR and cancer patients at large. Already commercialized and selling for $249, the first consumer version sold 1,000 units with mostly word-of-mouth marketing.

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Gareth is a freelance tech, food (and sex) journalist. 

He writes about tech & food for Metro, The Telegraph, Wareable, The Independent & Great British Food magazine.

His favourite kind of food is British heritage (so, er, just British) and his favourite tipple is sake. His spirit animal is Sonic the Hedgehog.


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