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UV Sense: Sun sensor to protect from sunburns and prevent skin cancer

One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. On average, half of the U.S. population experiences a sunburn once a year or more.
by Gabrielle Frank and Parminder Deo / / Source: TODAY

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Skin cancer is scary: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, more people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer by age 70. One person dies of melanoma (a less common skin cancer that is more likely to grow and spread) every hour.

These statistics won't stop millions of Americans from spending time outdoors this summer, though it's important to realize that we all could and should be better about protecting our skin from the sun's harmful rays. Now, L'Oréal has a new product that may make it a whole lot easier: It's called UV Sense.

The world's smallest wearable device: UV Sense

The cosmetic company teamed up with Northwestern University professor John A. Rogers to create a small wearable device, called UV Sense, that can precisely measure a person's exposure to UV light from the sun. If you've gotten too much exposure, the app linked to the sensor will let you know.

UV Sense - sun sensor
UV Sense is so small that it could fit on a button.Northwestern Medicine
UV sense- sun sensor and app
The app will alert you if you are putting yourself at risk for a sun burn.Northwestern Medicine

"The wearable is less than two millimeters thick, nine millimeters in diameter and designed to be worn for up to two weeks on the thumbnail," the press release noted. It's also been described as "light as a raindrop, and smaller than an M&M."

How does it work?

The device is powered by the user's phone, and activated by UVA and UVB rays. It's waterproof and can be attached to almost any part of the body or clothing. Users can monitor their exposure by using the app, which would warn them when to be mindful of UV exposure.

"It's so small it can be placed anywhere on the body," Dr. Steve Xu, a dermatologist at Northwestern Medicine, told NBC News. "We like the nail because it's such a great place to stick things — the nail never gets irritated, it's right on the hand." Xu also noted the sensor can be hidden as a button or added to jewelry.

L'Oréal launched a similar product in 2016 called My UV Patch, a stretchable skin senor to monitor UV exposure. The company has distributed over one million patches to consumers in 37 countries for free, to encourage sun-safe behaviors. So far, it's worked: 34 percent of users applied sunscreen more often, and 37 percent tried to stay in the shade more frequently. Engineers built on the design of My UV Patch to create UV Sense — and hope it will be just as effective in promoting sun safety.

Where can you get it?

UV Sense will be available on a limited basis in the U.S. for the 2018 summer season with a global launch following in 2019. For more information and product availability, visit www.laroche-posay.us.

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