The future of wearable skincare technology is roughly the size of an M&M. Launching today, L’Oréal’s La Roche-Posay My Skin Track UV sensor clips onto clothing and measures the wearer’s exposure to UV radiation, a form of radiation that is known to damage skin and, in large amounts, cause skin cancer.
The My Skin Track UV sensor and its corresponding app were designed to make wearers aware of their levels of UV exposure, as well as other skin-damaging pollutants, and to give users individualized, actionable steps to keep their exposure at a healthy level. The device is the latest development from L’Oréal’s Tech Incubator, the beauty company’s technology research and development lab. “We’re working on projects around personalized and precise beauty,” says Guive Balooch, who started the incubator nearly seven years ago and now leads its 35-member team. “Everything is just under the umbrella of technology, design, and how beauty can be at the center of that.”
The wearable UV sensor, offered under L’Oréal’s skincare brand La Roche-Posay, has evolved since the incubator first began to offer its free UV-measuring sticker, My UV Patch, in 2016. Last January, L’Oréal showcased a prototype called UV Sense, which adhered to a fingernail like stick-on nail art, before arriving at the form factor of a clip-attached sensor, designed in collaboration with Swiss industrial designer Yves Behar.
The UV sensor technology may address a critical need in skin cancer prevention. UV radiation causes the forms of DNA damage that lead to skin cancer, which is estimated to affect one in five Americans. Balooch hopes that wearers’ awareness of UV exposure will increase their likelihood of adopting protective skincare behaviors, like applying sunscreen and seeking shade.
More broadly, my Skin Track UV signals a notable shift in how beauty technology is sold. My UV Patch will be sold, starting today, at Apple stores across the US and on Apple’s website. (The companion app is available for both iOS and Android devices.) “I think that it opens the door for a new consumer market for us, and a new retail environment,” Balooch says.
A Sense for Innovation
My Skin Track UV relies neither on battery nor Bluetooth. Instead, when sunlight passes through a miniscule window in the sensor, it hits an LED detector, and the UV photons are stored in a capacitor. Embedded in the sensor, too, is a near-field communication antenna. When you bring the sensor close to your phone, the antenna transfers the photon data from the sensor to your phone.
Balooch’s team began working on the sensor two years ago, in collaboration with Northwestern University engineering professor John Rogers. It’s not the first device to use a combination of passive electronic components and near-field communication—think of electronic hotel room key cards, which can be tapped on the hotel room door without needing to be charged. The combination of these technologies not only makes for an ultralight sensor, but one that never needs to be removed and charged. Data can be gathered continuously and provide users with long-term feedback.
The sensor detects UVA radiation, while a patented algorithm calculates UVB exposure. Balooch points out that UVB radiation, the type of exposure related to sunburn and skin cancer risk, is easier to measure, because the wavelengths are longer. UVA radiation, associated with visible signs of skin aging and skin cancer, is harder to build a sensor for.
“It’s very difficult to take a UVB measurement and use an algorithm to make UVA assumptions. The opposite is much easier,” he says. The combination of sensors and algorithms is a strategy that’s been adopted in other lightweight wearables, which directly measure some metrics, and use those metrics to inform an algorithm that calculates others.
The app also provides metrics about a user’s skin exposure. It uses a phone’s location-based data to provide a user with information about humidity, air quality assessments, and pollen in their area. An algorithm then takes into account both the UVA/UBV information from the sensor and the location-based exposure data in order to generate alerts when your phone registers high levels of exposure. Users also have the option of buying La Roche-Posay products from within the app.
“The ‘My Skin Track’ part of My Skin Track UV is all about making sure that everyone gets as much information about their skin as they can,” Balooch. The sensor and app continue a trend of offering ultra-individualized, data-based beauty suggestions that beauty companies have increasingly adopted in their retail strategy.
Skin in the Game
My Skin Track UV is available exclusively at Apple, and its app will also display data on Apple’s HealthKit. The retail partnership hints at L’Oréal’s bid to become more than a makeup company, and to blur the margin between its cosmetics and its technology. For one thing, the clip, unlike the nail art prototype, is more discreet and non-gendered. “Men are much more aware of grooming than they were ten years back,” says Dr. Sanjukta Pookulangara, who teaches digital retail technology and consumer behavior at the University of North Texas. Men’s increasing investment in skincare and grooming might indicate a promising new audience for L’Oréal.
Moreover, by aligning itself with Apple, L’Oréal benefits from the sleek tech giant’s brand recognition. “We have done studies on brand loyalty, brand recognition, brand knowledge, and these have a direct impact on our intention to buy,” Pookulangara says. Consumers, especially those who might not have considered themselves customers of L’Oréal, would be able to decide to buy the product based on their trust of Apple’s reputation in the wearable world. (It’s a pretty good one.) My Skin Track UV’s availability at the Apple store lowers the barrier to entry and signals broader consumer accessibility to beauty tech—which makes this tiny wearable well positioned to spell big changes in how we shop for skincare.