Smartphones and the Sun?
I have to admit that I was not the first person in my community to get a smartphone, nor the first person on my block, nor the first person in my family, or even in my marriage. No, I didn’t have a flip phone until last week, but I did lag behind many folks in getting my “do all” communication device. Little did I know that my smartphone would be so smart. Atlas, map, calculator, barometer, word processor, thermometer, phone book, calendar, camera, step counter: where does it end? But, now a device that can monitor sun exposure? Seriously?
A different kind of patch
Well, according to Dr. Steve Xu, a dermatology instructor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (and the Medical Director of Northwestern’s Center for Bio-Integrated Electronics) in Chicago, this technology may already be here. A tiny, battery-free patch that can alert wearers to potentially harmful sun rays might become what the doctor ordered. Ironically, this tiny transmitter is powered by the sun and communicates with the user’s smartphone. It works in all kinds of wear, is reusable and is practically weightless.1
Sun protection as an app?
According to Dr. Xu, this device weighs “less than a single tic tac, is half the diameter of a dime and thinner than a credit card.” He also notes that it nearly indestructible having been tested by being washed and dropped in boiling water. The device picks up ultraviolet readings, infrared and visible light readings directly to the phone. Xu envisions other applications to monitor blue light phototherapy when treating newborn babies, psoriasis and/or atopic dermatitis.1
The benefit of tracking sun exposure
The primary benefit is “actionable, accurate information” regarding sun exposure in real time. This is important because often people don’t realize that they are getting too much sun until it’s too late. Studies (supported by L’Oreal and the US National Cancer Institute) conducted in Brazil and Florida showed that the patch was convenient and easy to use and could be placed in high exposure areas, such as ears and nose and even on a pair sunglasses. The complete findings were published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Warnings and limitations
There are some fundamental limitations related to the patch that should be considered. The patches can only be placed in one place at a time and thus can only measure exposure in any one location on the skin and man not provide a true overall measurement of exposure. This is significant because unless one is going to cover his/her body with these sensors, the readings will miss possibly critical exposure. The Skin Cancer Foundation in New York City warns against relying solely on these devices to determine when to take skin protection measures, which must be practiced daily with or without the aid of technology.1
At the end of the (sunny) day, the effectiveness and value of this new technology should be researched and monitored closely. It seems like another tool in the toolbox for those closely monitoring their sun exposure. I am for any technology that helps us as long as we understand its benefits, limitations and proper usage. It seems that the smartphone just got smarter.
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