Canada

Should you apply sunscreen? There's an app for that

From sunscreen dispensers on beaches, to wearable gadgets that remind you when to reapply, there is growing interest in preventing sunburns.

Wearable gadgets and free sunscreen dispensers encourage everyone to protect their skin

The JUNE app in this bracelet tracks UV levels so wearers can reapply sunscreen when needed. (JUNE by netatmo/Facebook)

From sunscreen dispensers on beaches to wearable gadgets that remind you when to reapply, there's growing interest in preventing sunburns.

According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, skin cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in this country, as well as in the rest of the world. In fact, if you were born in the 1960s, you have a one-in-20 lifetime risk of getting skin cancer. But if you were born in the 1990s, that risk is one in six.

Jaggi Rao is a professor of dermatology at the University of Alberta, and sunscreen education is a huge part of his mission. Rao says he's intrigued by new technologies to encourage people to apply sunscreen, but he has concerns.

"I'm not really confident that the information they derive will be accurate," he said.

Rao is concerned that devices like the JUNE bracelet, which measures UV rays and uses an app to remind wearers when to apply sunscreen, don't see the whole picture.

"I know that the devices will typically take a look at the environment as well as their skin in a particular area, but I wonder if that's true for the entire body," he said.

Sara Larsen of Minnesota, left, and Nicolette Sansone of Illinois apply sunscreen in Miami Beach, Fla. The City of Miami Beach is installing 50 sunscreen dispensers throughout the city for public use. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

There's growing attention around staying safe in the sun. The City of Miami Beach, for example, recently celebrated its centennial by installing free sunscreen dispensers on city beaches.

But just because it's there doesn't mean people will use it. Rao said many people only apply sunscreen after they've personally had a horrible experience.

"The reason they know about it is not just because of media or education," he explained.

"Once you have one sunburn — especially in a very warm, hot climate like South Beach, it can be quite a tremendous burn — it's a good reminder never to do it again."

Rao added that getting Canadians to apply sunscreen is an even bigger challenge.

"It's generally a pretty cold country compared to other parts of the world, but that doesn't necessarily mean that we don't have ultraviolet light or sun exposure," he said.

"In fact, many places have even more sun exposure and UV risk than some of the warmest places in the world, so the big message is that temperature is not related to UV index."


The Wall Street Journal's personal technology columnist Joanna Stern reviewed the JUNE bracelet. 

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