Wearable UV Sensors for Sun Protection

UV Bracelets, UV Stickers, and UV Monitors to Keep Your Skin Sun-Safe

Woman with sunscreen on her back sitting by the pool - wearable UV monitors and UV sensors
Photo: arto_canon / Getty Images  

There's a new crop of sun protection products on the market today, and they're a far cry from your typical sunscreens. Wearable UV sensors, UV bracelets and beads, sunscreen-indicating stickers and bands are all tools that you can add to your sun protection arsenal.

What Is UV and What Does It Do to Your Skin?

Before we dig deeper into these UV-sensing products, let's look at why it's important to protect your skin from the sun in the first place.

UV stands for ultraviolet. It's the ultraviolet rays in sunlight that are responsible for a myriad of skin issues, from sunburn to premature aging to skin cancer. Sun protection is important for everyone, of any complexion, and at every age.

Wearable Electronic UV Monitors

Technology has come a long way. It's amazing to think that an ultra tiny chip small enough to wear on your fingernail can send info about your current UV exposure directly to your smartphone. But that's exactly what these new electronic UV sensors do.

Depending on the brand you buy, these personal UV monitors either clip to your clothes, are wearable bands, or have an adhesive that sticks directly to your skin. They connect to your phone or tablet and provide important information on how much UV exposure you're getting.

Some products also give you sun safe tips, and alert you when it's time to reapply sunscreen or get out of the sun.

Pros:

The information and actionable tips sent directly to your phone make it clear how much UV exposure you're getting and what you can do to reduce it. Unlike some sensors, these monitors are meant to be used repeatedly.

Cons:

Some of the monitors can be quite pricey, while others aren't necessarily attractive accessories.

There's also some debate about product accuracy.

Available Products:

  • L'Oreal UV Sense (coming out sometime in 2018)
  • Rooti CliMate
  • Shade UV Sensor
  • SunFriend Personal UV Monitor

L'Oreal's UV Sense is the smallest of the monitors, allowing you to wear it on your thumbnail. It's waterproof, stays attached for several weeks, and connects remotely to your phone.

Color-Changing UV Indicators

For a lower-tech way to monitor your UV exposure, color changing UV indicators are an affordable option. These indicators come in a variety of forms, from wearable rubber wristbands, bracelets, or beads, to flexible patches or stickers.

They're all pretty simple to use and to understand. UV indicators are made with a sun-sensitive dye that changes color when exposed to strong UV light. For example, your wristband may start off white but turn to a bright purple when you've gotten a lot of UV exposure.

They mainly serve as a reminder that you're currently being exposed to strong, possibly skin-damaging UV light, and to cover up your skin or seek some shade.

Pros:

These products are very inexpensive, making them accessible to most families. They're also extremely simple to use. Unlike electronic monitors, most of these indicators are water resistant or waterproof so can be used while swimming.

Cons:

While these color-changing indicators tell you that you're getting some strong UV exposure, they don't give you any actionable steps to take. So it's up to you to decide what to do with the information. Will you apply sunscreen? Cover up? Head for shade?

Available Products:

  • Jide Tech UV Sun Sense Wristbands (for kids)
  • Skin Cancer Prevention UV Wristband
  • UV Buddies Bracelets
  • UV SunSense Monitoring Wristbands

Sunscreen Reapplication Stickers/Wristbands

These indicators work like UV monitors but take it a step further. They actually show you how your sunscreen is working, and tell you when it's time to reapply.

Here's how they work. You stick the monitoring sticker directly on the skin or affix the wristband. Apply your sunscreen, any brand you choose, over your skin and the sticker or wristband.

When the color of the sticker changes color, it shows that the sunscreen is no longer protecting your skin and it's time to reapply. Once you reapply, the indicator changes back to its original color until it's time to reapply again.

These UV indicators give you a simple visual of how that sunscreen is actually working on your body. If you're using a lower SPF or don't apply generously enough, the indicator will turn color more quickly than if you've slathered on a high SPF.

These can be used for both adults and children. But be aware younger kids may have more fun peeling the sticker off of their bodies, so you'll want to apply it someplace unreachable, like on their backs.

L'Oreal's My UV Patch is a bit of a hybrid between an simple UV indicator and a higher tech monitor. You apply sunscreen over the top and it changes color with UV exposure, but you can also scan the sensor with your phone. The app reads the sensor and gives you detailed info about your exposure, sunscreen usage, and other sun-safe skin tips.

Pros:

These products take much of the guesswork out of knowing how much sunscreen to use, and when to reapply. They work in the water, so you can wear them while swimming. In fact, this may be even more important because sunscreen, even water-resistant brands, don't stick around as long on your skin in the water. You need to reapply much more frequently than you'd probably expect, so these stickers are good indicators to help you do so.

Cons:

Unlike some of the other UV indicators, each sticker or wristband is only effective for one day. At the end of the day, you throw it away and use a fresh sticker or band the next time you're out in the sun. Another caveat—it doesn't take into account if your skin naturally burns easily or not. If you're very fair-skinned and burn super quickly and easily, you may find yourself burned already before the indicator tells you to reapply.

The exception is L'Oreal My UV Patch. It can last for up to 5 days on your skin. And the app does ask basic questions about your skin type and complexion, giving you more personalized recommendations.

Available Products:

  • L'Oreal My UV Patch
  • Sunburn Alert UV Stickers
  • Sundicators UV Stickers

A Word From Verywell

Since UV light is invisible, it's easy to dismiss the long-term effects it can have on the skin. Like the old saying goes, out of sight out of mind. These products can all be good visual reminders of the amount of UV light we're all exposed to every day, and especially on those days ​when you're outside for a long period of time.

But it's important you don't rely on these solely. If your skin is looking even the slightest bit pink, cover up or get out of the sun regardless of what your monitor is telling you.

The best advice is still this: wear SPF of at least 30 every day, reapply often when you're out in the sun, and try to stay out of the sun when it's at its strongest. You can use these UV sensors as an additional tool to help you stay safe in the sun.

Sources:

Sattler U1 Thellier S, Sibaud V, Taïeb C, Mery S, Paul C, Meyer N. "Factors Associated with Sun Protection Compliance: Results from a Nationwide Cross-sectional Evalulation of 2215 Patients from a Dermatological Consultation." The British Journal of Dermatology. 2014 Jun;170(6):1327-35.

Shi Y, Manco M, Moyal D, et. al. "Soft, Stretchable, Epidermal Sensor with Integrated Electronics and Photochemistry for Measuring Personal UV Exposures." PLoS One. 2018 Jan 2;13(1):e0190233.

"Materials: Sensor Detects UV Exposure." Nature. 2016 Nov 30;540(7631):11.