Researchers Develop Wearable Paper-Based UV Sensors that Warn You When it’s Time to Get Out of the Sun

Paper UV sensor
Image: Creative commons

A research team led by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, has developed paper-based UV sensors that could help people avoid sun damage and manage vitamin absorption.

Our body needs sunlight to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D, but excessive exposure can cause sunburn, skin cancer, blindness, skin wrinkling and premature signs of aging.

A personal struggle with Vitamin D deficiency led Professor Vipul Bansal to develop the color-changing sensors that come in six variations to reflect the range in human skin tone, reports RMIT.

“We can print our ink on any paper-like surface to produce cheap wearable sensors in the form of wrist-bands, head bands or stickers for example,” Bansal said.

Knowing what a healthy amount is for you depends on understanding your personal classification, from Type I to VI, as each has very different solar exposure needs.

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Diseases such as Lupus and many medications increase the photosensitivity of our skin and reduce our ability to absorb Vitamins through diet, making monitoring our sun exposure thresholds highly individual.

“We are excited that our UV sensor technology allows the production of personalized sensors that can be matched to the specific needs of a particular individual,” said Bansal.

“The low cost and child-friendly design of these UV sensors will facilitate their use as educational materials to increase awareness around sun safety.”

Paper UV sensor
The UV active ink can be printed on paper, making sensors cheap and simple to produce (Image: RMIT University)

The darker the skin, the longer it takes for the skin to absorb healthy amounts of vitamin D. For example, fair skin (type 1) can only tolerate one fifth of the UV exposure than dark skin (type VI) does before damage occurs.

“The discovery could help to provide people with an accurate and simple measure of their personal exposure levels throughout the day,” Professor Bansal said.

The ink can be printed on any paper-like surface to produce cheap wearable sensors in the form of wrist-bands, head bands or stickers.

Current method of managing sun exposure is through UV index, but this tool only shows the intensity of UV rays. It does not act as a precise tool to monitor each individual’s daily exposure.

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“The discovery has application beyond the health sector as over time UV rays can have damaging effects on the lifetime of many industrial and consumer products,” Professor Bansal noted.

“Monitoring this exposure could help improve the safety and reliability of a range of items, including vehicles and military equipment, with huge potential cost savings.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications.

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