Apple Watch could protect users from sunburn by monitoring UV light intake

Posted:
in Apple Watch
The Apple Watch could help prevent sunburn, premature skin aging, and even skin cancer, with Apple considering the potential for its wearable device to warn users when they have been out in the sun and exposed to UV light for too long.

Apple Watch Series 4
Apple Watch Series 4


Overexposure to ultraviolet light has been associated with a number of serious health conditions, some more serious than others. While sunseekers do endure the risk of sunburn if they are not adequately protected or stay out too long, as well as the potential for skin cancer, the effects of UV light can cause other types of damage to the skin, including the destruction of elastic and collagen tissue, and discoloration.

Given the inherent risks, Apple believes it is advantageous to detect if the user is outdoors, and how much they have been exposed to UV light.

Granted on Tuesday by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, the patent for "UV dosimetry and exposure alert" effectively describes a system where UV light sensors detect sunlight and tracks exposure over time. The system can then provide the user with alerts about their exposure, including guidance on preventative measures if the levels are excessive.

While Apple mentions the use of a device, images supplied for the patent suggest it would be part of an Apple Watch. This would be logical, as the Apple Watch follows the user around and is usually open to the elements, making it the perfect device to perform the task.

An image in the patent depicting an Apple Watch with potential UV sensor locations
An image in the patent depicting an Apple Watch with potential UV sensor locations


The device in question includes a number of UV light sensors, which are used to detect if the user is outdoors, and if so, to determine periods of time they were potentially exposed to the Sun. The data from the sensors is fed into an analyzer that compiles the total exposure time and how much UV light the user will have been exposed to, with the result used to advise the user.

The system can also be augmented by other sensors, including an ambient light sensor and infrared light sensor. These could be used to provide more accurate data about the amount of light hitting the user, but also to help determine if the user is outdoors or indoors, as the light sources are different and one may influence reports about the other.

To improve the quality of results further, the Apple Watch could be fed "location-dependent UV index information" from weather reports, in the form of UV Index levels for different times of day. As levels can be forecast to change over time, users could be warned in advance of particularly high-risk periods of the day, especially if they have already been exposed to the Sun for a considerable period beforehand.

Example graphs showing predicted UVI over the course of a day
Example graphs showing predicted UVI over the course of a day


While Apple does receive patent grants and applies for others on a regular basis, the existence of a patent is no guarantee that the concepts described will appear in a future Apple product.

The ability to monitor a user's UV intake would be a considerable extension to the Apple Watch's existing health and wellbeing capabilities, such as its heartrate and fitness tracking options and, in the Apple Watch Series 4, ECG monitoring.

This is also not the first time Apple has considered ways to protect users from the sun's harmful rays. In July, a patent application for "Light-based Shielding Detection" advised of how an Apple device could detect how protected the user is by sunscreen, advising of where unprotected areas of the body are, and when to apply more.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 14
    irelandireland Posts: 17,470member
    Indeed, and wearing appropriate clothing and using common sense also works.
  • Reply 2 of 14
    FYI - Apple through its “only at Apple” retail program offers the La Roche-Posay, My Skin Track.  The batteryless tiny wearable continuously reads and stores UV data, then periodically you must hold your iPhone near it to transmit the data to the app is NFC.  The app is HealthKit compatible.  I’ve had it for a few days  it works well and provides a wealth of information on air quality (a big deal in California these days) as well as UV exposure.
    lostkiwiwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 14
    ireland said:
    Indeed, and wearing appropriate clothing and using common sense also works.
    Or just cover up your Apple Watch :-)
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 14
    It's not obvious to me that "nudges" to get out of the sun would be a net positive.  People get little enough outdoor exercise as it is.  I expect that if Americans spent an extra hour a week outdoor the health benefits of exercise would dwarf the negative efforts of UV radiation.
    beowulfschmidt
  • Reply 5 of 14
    ireland said:
    Indeed, and wearing appropriate clothing and using common sense also works.
    What a foolhardy sentiment. You could say the same about any sensor or alert system... Like brake-assist, for example -- if you just used a safe following distance and common sense, not needed. Or automatic anti-lock brakes -- if you just kept your cool and pumped the brakes appropriately, not needed. If you just ate right and worked out, scales and activity reminders aren't needed. Yada yada. Nope, the point of sensors and tech is to deliver timely info and notices.
    edited November 20 watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 14

    It's not obvious to me that "nudges" to get out of the sun would be a net positive.  People get little enough outdoor exercise as it is.  I expect that if Americans spent an extra hour a week outdoor the health benefits of exercise would dwarf the negative efforts of UV radiation.
    It's insane to suggest we should spend more time outdoors to the point of sunburning each session. 

    As someone who has accidentally been sunburnt under numerous scenarios, there is clearly value here. As usual, big bad Apple isn't going to put a gun to your head and force compliance on any of these types of features. But I see that won't get in the way of the negative nancies.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 14
    This sort of functionality would be brilliant, especially in countries like Australia and NZ.
    It really ties in with the 'health tracker' theme Apple have been going for lately in the watch space - fall alerts, heart condition tracking etc.
    Particularly for people who use the watch when actually doing sports like surfing, tramping etc.  I wonder if they could get it to advise you when to reapply sunscreen when in the water based on sun exposure, time, activity levels (sweating the lotion off) etc?
    anomewatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 14
    hodarhodar Posts: 247member
    The human eye, because of our iris, is not a very good light intensity detector.  Add to this little fact, that we are incapable of seeing UV light.  So, depending upon your latitude, cloud cover, time of year, and surroundings; you can be in a high UV area and never know it.  If we are at the beach, we know that the UV Levels will be higher than when we are working in the garden; and we take precautions accordingly.

    But, having a numeric monitor that tell me, real time, of what UV levels I am subjected to; I see as a very good thing.  Being a person with a light complexion, I know I burn easily,  I think having this capability is almost justification in and of itself to upgrading my Apple Watch

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 14
    anomeanome Posts: 1,170member
    ireland said:
    Indeed, and wearing appropriate clothing and using common sense also works.

    What's appropriate clothing? What does common sense say about it? I wear long sleeves all the time, and stay indoors as much as possible, but I'm still at risk. I'd like to be able to look at my watch and see how much UV exposure I've had for the day, or even the past week. (Only problem is my long sleeves often cover my watch, but then UV can get through some types of clothing.)

    I hope that your appropriate clothing and common sense keep you safe, but for some people that isn't going to be enough. From my perspective, this is like the EKG function. Common sense tells you to not let your heart rate get too high, but doesn't really tell you what "too high" means, or even when it's getting too high. The Apple Watch lets you track those things, and warns you when your heart's having problems, even if you don't notice them. A UV meter would be the same for your skin.


    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 14
    hodar said:
    The human eye, because of our iris, is not a very good light intensity detector.  Add to this little fact, that we are incapable of seeing UV light.  So, depending upon your latitude, cloud cover, time of year, and surroundings; you can be in a high UV area and never know it.  If we are at the beach, we know that the UV Levels will be higher than when we are working in the garden; and we take precautions accordingly.

    But, having a numeric monitor that tell me, real time, of what UV levels I am subjected to; I see as a very good thing.  Being a person with a light complexion, I know I burn easily,  I think having this capability is almost justification in and of itself to upgrading my Apple Watch

    Well said.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 14


    It's not obvious to me that "nudges" to get out of the sun would be a net positive.  People get little enough outdoor exercise as it is.  I expect that if Americans spent an extra hour a week outdoor the health benefits of exercise would dwarf the negative efforts of UV radiation.
    It's insane to suggest we should spend more time outdoors to the point of sunburning each session. 

    As someone who has accidentally been sunburnt under numerous scenarios, there is clearly value here. As usual, big bad Apple isn't going to put a gun to your head and force compliance on any of these types of features. But I see that won't get in the way of the negative nancies.
    Yeah, that would be insane.  Good thing no one is suggesting it.  I'm just saying that the average American (myself included) doesn't spend enough time outside.  Not just from an exercise perspective, but also in terms of vitamin D.  (I've been prescribed a weekly mega dose of vitamin D for exactly this reason.)

    But Hodar's statement of the benefit of this is very persuasive.  Not every hour in the sun is the same.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 14
    The funny thing is that they would not be able to make recommendations on the basis of the far more important concern, cancer risk - I was researching that earlier this year, and there does not exist an established dose-dependent relationship between time exposed to sun at a UV index and cancer risk. 
  • Reply 13 of 14
    jdgazjdgaz Posts: 320member
    My Series 4 watch face is showing UV index. So this would be a nice extension.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 14

    What we really need is a sensor that tells us when we are not getting enough sun exposure! A 20 year Swedish study demonstrated that women who were always seeking the sun had half the risk of all-cause death, compared to women who stayed indoors. Only burning is dangerous. Blocking too much sunlight can be much more hazardous, and the best way to avoid sun damage is to cover up or find shade when one has had enough. Conventional sunscreen is filled with toxic chemicals that may cause cancer. Avobenzone and oxybenzone are two of the worst. Sunscreen can block up to 99% of vitamin D production in the skin. Isn't it interesting that each year the use of sunscreen increases, and each year the risk of melanoma increases? It is not sun exposure that causes health problems; it is sun deprivation. The latest research shows that sunscreen is leading to widespread vitamin D deficiency. Here are more facts:

    •Seventy-five percent of melanomas occur on areas of the body that are seldom or never exposed to sunlight. 

    •A Spanish study shows that women who seek the sun have one-eleventh the hip-fracture risk as those who avoid sun.

    •Men who work outdoors have half the risk of melanoma as those who work indoors.

    •Women who avoid the sun have 10-times the risk of breast cancer as those who embrace the sun.

    • Sunbathing can produce up to 20,000 units of vitamin D in 20 minutes of whole-body exposure around noon.

    •Sun exposure improves mood through the production of serotonin and endorphin.

    More information and references: http://sunlightinstitute.org. Or, read Dr. Marc Sorenson’s new book, Embrace the Sun, available at Amazon.

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