Like a FitBit for your skin, device works with app to helps track sun exposure

Technology is helping to prevent cancer and protect the largest organ of the body. It’s a tool you may want to add to your holiday tech gift list. Developed by a dermatologist, the gadget My Skin Track UV Sensor safeguards the skin and alerts users to dangerous conditions.

We track time, calories, steps. And now a device, smaller than a coin, can track our sun exposure.

The wearable sensor developed in this Northwestern Medicine lab, with the help of a dermatologist.

Doctor Steve Xu is a physician engineer with Northwestern Medicine and Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering.

“I get to be the engineer that helps develop these technologies, but I’m also the doctor who sees patients with these things,” he said.

What Dr Xu sees are patients with skin cancer.

“The major driving factor for nearly all skin cancers is ultraviolet radiation.  It’s from the sun. We’re getting more UV, and we’re paying for it as we get older in life,” he said.

But just how much UV we’re getting each day is difficult to measure. That’s where the wearable sensor shines.

“We’re just sort of guessing or estimating, and the only feedback we get is if we got red or a sunburn,” Dr Xu said. “It’s pretty small, you can clip it onto your shirt. I’ve seen people put it on their shoelaces.”

No matter where you put it, it soaks in the light just as you are. No battery necessary.

“Ultraviolet radiation is ubiquitous, it’s kind of everywhere, and you get UV even when the sun’s not out, when it’s overcast, when you are indoors, in a car, underwater,” Dr Xu said. “All these things you don’t think about really add up, especially in someone who is at higher risk of skin cancer. I think that provides power, provides knowledge.”

The device takes into account your skin type, what you’re wearing and if you are in the shade.

“And then it tells you how much UV exposure you’ve gotten, how much UV the sensor has picked up, and gives you an assessment -- how close you are to the danger zone,”  Dr Xu said.  “As consumers there are so many individuals every single year they get a sunburn. Nearly 50 percent of adolescents will recall getting a sunburn. Nearly 40 percent of adults recall it as well. That leads to increased risk of skin cancer.”

The My Skin Track UV Sensor is available commercially at the Apple Store, but Dr Xu is even more excited about the clinical applications. Another version of the device can be used to optimize light therapy for jaundiced babies in the hospital and for the treatment of skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis.