Scientists at RMIT University in Australia have developed colour-changing wearable sensors that can help people monitor their ultraviolet (UV) exposure throughout the day to manage Vitamin D absorption and avoid sun damage.

Developed by a team headed by Professor Vipul Bansal from RMIT’s Applied Chemistry and Environmental Sciences Department, the colour-changing sensors come in six variations to reflect the range in human skin tone.

“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,” said Prof Bansal.

While humans require some sun exposure to maintain healthy levels of Vitamin D, excessive exposure can cause sunburn, skin cancer, blindness, skin wrinkling and premature signs of aging.

In a paper recently published in Nature Communications, the scientists explain that knowing what a healthy amount of sun exposure is depends on understanding your personal classification, from Type I to VI, as each has very different solar exposure needs.

The paper authors went on to explain that 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 personalised sensors that can be matched to the specific needs of a particular individual,” said Prof 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,” continued Prof Bansal.

Currently the only guide for managing sun exposure is the UV index scale, which only indicates the intensity of UV rays and does not act as a precise tool to monitor each individual’s daily exposure.

Fair skin (Type I) can only tolerate one fifth of the UV exposure that dark skin (Type VI) can before damage occurs, while darker types require longer in the sun to absorb healthy amounts of Vitamin D.

Prof Bansal believes his sensors could also be used outside of the health sector, because over time UV rays can have damaging effects on the lifetime of many industrial and consumer products. Monitoring this exposure could help improve the safety and reliability of a range of items, including vehicles and military equipment, with potential cost savings.

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