Emerging Innovations for a Healthy Summertime
School is out and summer is here. The weather has finally warmed up, days are noticeably longer and we’re all plotting our summer vacation, if not packing for it. This is the time of year to maximize our time outside — swimming, camping, hiking, lounging, you name it.
But while the summertime is undoubtedly good for the soul, it’s not always great for the skin. With more of our body exposed to the elements during summer months, we face a higher risk of sunburns and bug bites, among other things. Fortunately, innovation in the sun-and-skin-care space is abuzz, providing new ways to stay healthy and protected all summer long.
Elizabeth Wu, Ph.D., a senior analyst for consumer scientific innovation with Johnson & Johnson Innovation, is on the constant hunt for emerging technologies that will improve quality of life for consumers. A devoted sunscreen-applier with a background in skincare science, Dr. Wu shares some of the biggest trends she’s seeing today that can help improve our health during the summertime.
Skin-saving selfies. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the No. 1 cause of skin cancer. UV rays also contribute to wrinkles and sagging skin, as they damage the skin’s elastin fibers. And if those aren’t enough reason to lather up with sunblock, consider the pain of a sunburn. To ensure you don’t miss a spot when you’re applying sun protection on yourself or your loved ones, UV cameras allow you to take a picture of a person’s face and see the areas that have yet to be covered with SPF. (In pictures taken with a UV camera, the face appears dark when it’s covered in sunscreen; the light spots show where you need to add protection.) UV cameras were once bulky and expensive, but new technology has miniaturized the camera and enabled it to work as an iPhone attachment. “It’s something you can use before you leave the house, or after you’ve been out in the sun for a while to make sure you’re still protected,” Dr. Wu says.
Wearable sun sensors. Sometimes the sun can sneak up on you, especially on those breezy summer days. As consumers increasingly seek to quantify their health through wearables, a new technology is emerging that can help keep track of how much UV radiation they’re being exposed to on any given day; it also works as an invaluable tool for parents who want to keep their kids sunburn-free. The wearables may take the form of a clip-on sensor for a shirt or backpack, a bracelet, or an adhesive worn on the skin like a Band-Aid. “It’s a way to alert you when either you or your child has had too much sun,” Dr. Wu says. “UV rays are always there, even when it’s cloudy. It’s something we all need to be thinking about all year round, not just during summer.”
Nature’s insect repellents. Summer is, unfortunately, the season of bugs. And no longer is an itchy bite the biggest worry. From West Nile virus and Zika to Lyme Disease, insect-born diseases can come with serious health consequences. The DEET chemical is still the most commonly used and most effective repellent (some 120 products with DEET are registered with the FDA), but many consumers are interested in natural alternatives that work just as well. Scientists are actively exploring the bug-deterring mechanisms used by plants and fruits, and looking at ways to translate those learnings into effective natural products for consumers.
These up-and-coming technologies may not be widely available yet, but consumers can expect to add them to their summer toolbox in the very near future. In the meantime, Dr. Wu advises everyone to diligently apply SPF sunscreen every day — not just to their skin, but also to their hair, which can be easily damaged by sun — and to be aware of how much time they’re spending in the sun. Also, be aware of mosquitos and bugs, such as ticks, and take measures to prevent bug bites. This includes covering exposed skin when possible, using EPA-registered insect repellents and avoiding bugs through screens and bed nets when on vacation.
Now get outside and play!