Beauty tech is still in its infancy, but lifestyle brands are slowly warming up to the idea of incorporating technology to improve user experience and sometimes, the product itself. We’ve seen a smart hairbrush that can determine the quality of your hair, a smart mirror that can identify the health of your skin, and now there’s nail art that can track exposure to ultraviolet radiation when you’re out and about.
The UV Sense is a battery-free wearable electric sensor you stick onto your fingernail. It can measure UV exposure, which you can track via a companion app on your smartphone. It’s from L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, which has created products such as the Makeup Genius app, where people can try different looks using a smartphone camera, and Le Teint Particulier an in-store device that scans your skin to create custom foundation for you.
The tricky part about the UV Sense is that if people are supposed to wear it 24/7, it has to look good and feel comfortable. We spoke to the team behind this micro wearable to see how they managed the feat.
From a temporary patch to nail art
The UV Sense may be L’Oréal’s smallest battery-free wearable, but it isn’t the company’s first device to measure UV exposure. Back in 2016, the company released My UV Patch (marketed under the La Roche-Posay brand), and it looked more like a temporary tattoo.
L’Oréal Technology Incubator’s Global Vice President, Guive Balooch, and his team knew wearing a sticker daily wasn’t practical, unless at the beach or swimming pool.
To help come up with a new design and form for the UV Sense, Balooch brought back Swiss designer and Fuseproject founder, Yves Béhar, who designed the original My UV Patch.
“There are no moving parts or buttons, and no physical interfaces to the device. It all happens wirelessly to the phone.”
“The original UV Patch was an incredible feat in technology, however it was strongly lacking a design component,” Béhar told Digital Trends. “The product was unnecessarily large, and was being presented as a novelty item. If you’re asking someone to wear a product 24/7, it should be comfortable, beautiful, fit [into] their personal style, and provide necessary insights into our daily [lives].”
But figuring out the formula for a hassle-free and comfortable device required highlighting pain points that exist within wearable technology today. Balooch and his team narrowed it down to two major issues: Having to charge a battery, and the lack of real estate on people’s wrists. Balooch called in a team of engineers from Northwestern University, who brought up the idea of flexible electronics that don’t need a battery. Earlier this year, Digital Trends spoke to John Rogers, a Northwestern engineer who was a part of the team.
“From a user standpoint, it’s hard to imagine anything simpler, in the sense that you never have to worry if your battery is charged up since it doesn’t need one,” Rogers said. “There are no moving parts or buttons, and no physical interfaces to the device. It all happens wirelessly to the phone.”
Rogers said his team did face challenges developing the UV Sense, specifically when it came to developing designs for the antenna and electronic circuit that would enable it to work with a smartphone. But once those issues were solved, it “opened up the ability to mount technology in places that were previously not considered.”
Some of the “places” Rogers is referring to are fingernails. Through testing, the L’Oréal team found that placing the UV Sense on nails returned the most accurate feedback to UV exposure. Since taking the battery out helped create a thinner and smaller sensor, Béhar saw the opportunity to disguise it as nail art. For even more versatility, the team is in the process of creating bracelets and watch accessories with the sensor, as well as clips that can attach to sunglasses.
How the UV Sense works
The UV Sense is dead simple to use. Stick it on your nail, swipe it over your iPhone or Android phone, and it will wirelessly transfer UV exposure data to the companion app using near-field communication (NFC). It’s the NFC chip that also charges the device through the data transfer process.
UV Sense itself strictly measures UV exposure. The app is where you can find additional info like allergens and pollution.
Apply the sensor to a nail using an adhesive, and you can reapply it using additional adhesives that come packaged in the box. Placing it on your thumbnail exposes the UV Sense to optimal sunlight, and the sensor is activated by UVA and UVB rays. Along with your UV report, you’ll also get some advice on on avoiding the sun, and recommendations on L’Oreal products to purchase.
The data the sensor collects is accurate, or at least that’s what L’Oreal claims.
“People would wear the sensor and then we’d have a clunky expensive detector that was right next to it, and [we’d] test the data to make sure we’re really measuring the UV correctly,” Balooch said. “It’s very important to us [and] it’s something we really need to be accurate on.”
It’s important to note the UV Sense itself strictly measures UV exposure. The app is where you can find additional information such as allergens, pollution, and other factors in the environment that can effect your skin. While wearing the sensor does provide you with your own personalized metrics when it comes to your UV exposure, you can still use the app without it to get a more general sense of what else is around you.
Pilot program and launch
The UV Sense will launch in the U.S. this summer as a pilot program. The company will continue to do testing with dermatologists and consumers, which allows L’Oreal to get even more feedback to improve the experience even better.
L’Oreal plans on launching the UV Sense under the La Roche-Posay brand worldwide in 2019.
“Our question has always been [how] to bring more performance to the product,” Balooch said. “So we took on this challenge of figuring out how could we make a wearable that’s interesting and exciting technologically, [that] could also give the user some tools to understand the personal level of exposure and what they could do with that information.”
After the pilot program, L’Oreal plans on launching the UV Sense under the La Roche-Posay brand worldwide in 2019. A price for the wearable hasn’t been set yet.