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Device Helps Protect People From Sunburn

March 12, 2009

An indicator has been developed by researchers that will alert wearers of sunburn by turning an appropriate shake of pink.

The device could be worn as a wrist band to warn people that they are at risk of receiving a potentially harmful dose of ultraviolet rays.

UV rays drive a chemical reaction in the indicator, releasing an acid into a dye, and causing it to change color.

The research team, from the University of Strathclyde, reported their work in the journal Chemical Communications.

Andrew Mills, professor of chemistry who led the team, describes this combination of UV-driven reaction with an acid-sensitive dye as “intelligent ink.”

“People think of chemical reactions as happening in test tubes,” he said. “But here you have a reaction in a very thin layer of ink film that produces a color change.”

There are other indicators already available that detect and measure UV.  However, what is special about this one is that it can be adjusted to give an instant signal at the point when sun exposure is about to cause damage, said Mills.

Mills has made a prototype of the film by combining a dye that gradually changes color from yellow to blue, and a central strip of dye that turns pink.

“This delayed reaction is the novel feature,” Professor Mills explained. As soon as the indicator turns pink, he says, “you should get out of the sun because if you stay you’ll burn”.

The device can also be adapted to various skin types.  Also, adding an alkali to the dye would increase the delay before the color changes.

“Our plan is to start a company that will make products out of this technology, such as wrist bands or clothing labels,” Professor Mills said.
“We’ve already been approached by a number of skincare product manufacturers who are interested in the technology.”

Health information officer from Cancer Research U.K., Jodie Moffat, said that anything highlighting the damage that UV exposure can cause would be a value.

Over 2,300 people die from skin cancer each year in the U.K., according to the charity.

Moffat said she can imagine “this sort of device being used to encourage people to protect their skin.”

However, she said it would need to be thoroughly tested to ensure it reflected exposure levels in real life situations.

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