How UV detecting wearables can keep you safe in the sun

Don’t get left in the shade with these high-tech sun-tracking wearables

SPF 30. Check. Shades. Check. Hat. Check. UV-detecting wristband, skin patch or clip-on? When you think about protecting your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, wearable tech probably isn't the first thing that springs to mind.

But the latest weapons in the sun care armoury are poised to hit the big time this summer, and may end up becoming as essential as sunscreen in the fight against sunburn, wrinkles and skin cancer.

Essential reading: Wearables vs allergies

Knowing when to dodge the sun's harmful rays is key. The short term effects of overdoing it, which include sunburn and sun allergy, are bad enough. But these pale in comparison with the long term consequences. According to the WHO, cases of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers have been increasing over the past decades. Now one in three diagnoses of cancer is a skin cancer. The main culprit? Damaging UV rays.

Cue the latest UV trackers. These wonder wearables detect the sun's rays and warn you if you need to slap on more sunscreen, cover up or seek shade. Basic colour-changing and LED wristbands such as SmartSun, UV Buddy and SunFriend have been available for a while, but this summer the newer crop of smart wearables is set to put these relatively low-tech devices in the shade.

The mainstream one: Microsoft Band 2

A fitness tracker with UV-detecting technology, the Band 2 may have more reach than the dedicated UV-tracking wearables out now and launching soon.

Its built-in sensor measures UV radiation intensities between 295nm and 325nm, the most damaging wavelengths, and delivers an almost instant reading that is correlated to the real-time UV index.

You simply position the wristband's sensor in the sun to get an accurate reading, which ranges from low to extreme. "We then go further by providing insights and actions you may take to combat this exposure," says Microsoft's Lindsey Matese. The device provides basic sun care advice (e.g. "If you burn easily, cover up and use SPF 30+"), as well as regular UV alerts that warn you if the Band has detected damaging rays.

The super-accurate option: Raymio

While its readings are delivered on the wrist for convenience, Microsoft's wearable does have its limitations as a UV tracking device. You have to expose the sensor to the sun to get a reading and the notifications the Band provides are pretty generic and not based on your exact skin type.

Enter the app-connected Raymio Personal Sun Coach, launching this summer (RRP $55). Like the Band 2, this crowdfunded device, which is also worn on the wrist, uses a sensor calibrated to certain wavelengths to detect damaging UV light. But Raymio goes even further with its unique 360 degree Sun Safety feature. "To ensure accuracy, the unit makes use of directional sensors to estimate the UV sensor's position in relation to the sun," says Raymio co-founder Kristian Thøgersen. "Even if the UV sensor doesn't face the sun, it will not presume that you are not exposed to sunlight: our algorithms will compensate for temporary drops in input or a downturned position."

The Raymio app provides hourly UV data from the Danish Meteorological Institute for locations worldwide, as well as sun protection advice and alerts based on your Fitzpatrick skin type. But you'll need to have your smartphone handy to access this info on the go, otherwise, the wristband simply flashes reds when it detects that you've been exposed to too much UV.

The fashion favourite: June by Netatmo

June by Netatmo looks more like a piece of jewellery than a UV-detecting wearable, hence the fashion appeal. Designed to be worn on the wrist or clipped on a piece of clothing, the UVA and UVB-sensing device transmits data to a dedicated smartphone app, which analyses the wearer's sun exposure and provides warnings and recommendations, along with the current UV index.

June lacks Raymio's 360 degree technology – the sensor has to be exposed to the sun to get a reading – and the bejewelled sensor doesn't glow or do anything fancy when it detects UV. But it does have one distinct advantage over other UV tracking wearables. The app factors in eye and hair colour, as well as the wearer's Fitzpatrick skin type, so it may deliver more accurate personalised alerts. Out now, the device costs $129.

The barely-there patch: L'Oréal's UV Patch

The most unobtrusive wearable in our round-up, L'Oréal's second skin patch is a stretchy disposable device the size of a small plaster that features 16 tiny squares which change colour when exposed to UV light. Launching this summer, the patch will be distributed for free.

To get a reading, you take a quick snap of the patch with your smartphone camera and the accompanying My UV Patch app analyses your UV exposure, warning you if you've had too much, based on your skin tone.

"We truly believe that we have created a breakthrough tech here," says Guive Balooch, the head of L'Oréal's Technology Incubator Research and Innovation division, a team of 25 scientists who developed the patch, amongst other products. "Other trackers on the market are mainly rigid electronics that are worn on the wrist. This does not allow you to apply the wearable on the part of the body you are most concerned about."

The cute clip-on: Rooti CliMate

Along with L'Oréal's tiny patch, the dinky Rooti CliMateclip-on may be more your cup of tea if you don't like the idea of wearing a wristband. Not just a UV tracker, the device also detects temperature and humidity.

The sensor does have to be facing the sun to get an accurate reading but it can be clipped onto clothing on any part of the body. The data is wirelessly synced to the CliMate app, which provides recommendations based on the wearer's precise Fitzpatrick skin type and the SPF level of any sunscreen applied.

CliMate will also let you know if there's a heatwave or thunderstorm on the way – it analyses user-generated cloud data to forecast weather conditions. The device is available to order for just $39. A similar clip-on crowdfunded device, the QTemp personalised weather station, priced at $59, is launching in July.

The vitamin D tracker: Violet by Ultra

Getting enough vitamin D can be difficult for many people, especially during the darker months of the year.

Other UV trackers focus on overexposure to the sun's harmful rays, but Violet, a UV sensor clip-on that works in tandem with a dedicated app, is different. The Violet app monitors vitamin D levels, in addition to providing sun damage alerts and sunscreen reminders, based on the wearer's precise skin type. It will let you know if you need to top up, a distinct advantage if you're prone to vitamin D deficiencies.

Still in the pipeline, the Violet is expected to launch soon. Also launching later this year, Stella is a wristband that works in conjunction with an app to monitor vitamin D levels and UV exposure, based on the wearer's Fitzpatrick skin type. The device, priced at $99, will also track activity levels and sleeping patterns. With so many exciting UV-detecting wearables to chose from in the meantime however, you may not want to wait that long to snap one up.

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