Tech & Science

The Safest Way to Tan

In the Magazine
Wearable tech promises a great tan while minimizing health risks Lucas Vallecillos/VWPics/Redux

Everyone knows that too much time in the sun can expose you to excessive ultraviolet radiation, which can lead to premature skin aging and, worse, melanoma and other skin cancers. But that’s not going to stop people from cooking themselves in search of the perfect tan. The problem has become an epidemic: more than 3.5 million skin cancers in over 2 million people diagnosed annually in the U.S.

Given our sun-worshipping ways, dermatologists and the skin-care industry are working hard to figure out the safest way to tan. A handful of wearable products have recently made it to market that alert wearers of UV radiation levels—they tell you you’re about to burn before you can see it.

The simplest might be Intellego Technologies’ Smartsun wristband, which alerts wearers of UV overexposure with just a change of color. The single-use, waterproof wristband was developed by two former researchers at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. It starts off as a yellowish-beige when first exposed to UV rays; when it turns pink, that’s the warning to seek shade and slather on sunscreen. “We wanted to create something which was close to a traffic light signal, yellow to red,” says Claes Lindahl, Intellego’s founder.

If you prefer something a little more invasive, try the UVeBand, which vibrates when you’ve had your share of UV rays. Then there’s the JUNE, developed and recently launched by Netatmo, better known for its personalized home weather stations. The $99 JUNE has UV sensors built into a fake gemstone (designed by Louis Vuitton and Camille Toupet) that connect wirelessly to a smartphone, where an app monitors UV intensity in real time, providing push alerts when it’s time to get out of the sun. It also tracks your radiation exposure over time, so you can see how bad your summer has been for your skin, long term. The JUNE can be worn either as a bracelet or brooch.

All of these products are designed to help wearers maximize their sun time. But none have been reviewed or approved by any health regulatory body, which raises some concerns. “We are relying on the manufacturer to tell us what an ‘acceptable’ level of exposure is," says Louisiana-based dermatologist Keith LeBlanc Jr. (Neither the American Cancer Society or the National Institutes of Health offers a “safe” or “healthy” exposure level.)

And, of course, the device does not protect from UV radiation. Nevertheless, doctors like Travis Kidner, a surgical oncologist at the Rox Cancer Center in Beverly Hills, California, and a melanoma survivor, believes the wristband could have a serious public health impact. “In most cases, it may take years for a sunburn to develop into a life-threatening melanoma,” he says. “If these wristbands are able to raise awareness amongst these individuals, that would be a tremendous success.”

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