With its latest launch in the wearables category, L’Oréal is hoping to gain traction in an industry that has struggled to court long-term consumers. It doesn’t hurt if users purchase some sunscreen along the way, too.
The UV Sense, which tracks skin’s exposure to sun damage, takes the shape of a small circle, two millimeters thick and nine millimeters in diameter. It’s worn on the thumbnail, placement that was partially inspired by trendy nail art; it’s also an optimal location for receiving sunlight, according to Guive Balooch, the global vice president of L’Oréal’s technology incubator.
Designed in partnership with Swiss designer Yves Behar, the waterproof “button” of sorts detects both UVA and UVB rays, and is said to last for two weeks. It will also come with additional adhesives for reapplication.
Announced this week at the Consumer Electronics Show, the wearable will be distributed later this year in drugstores and doctors’ offices alongside L’Oréal’s dermatological skin-care brand, La Roche-Posay. L’Oréal is still finalizing price details, but expects it to be more “accessible” than the other options out there, at under $100.
“Wearables need to move to a place where they’re incorporated with the body,” said Balooch. “They also have to measure something that people really care about.”
L’Oréal’s UV Sense tracker, shown on the thumbnail, and app
UV Sense arrives at a time when other wearables tracking health and fitness goals, like the Fitbit, are floundering. Despite this, brands continue to bank on health-oriented options, be it “smart socks” that track diabetes-related inflammation or devices like H20+ Beauty’s “Mili Moisture Meter,” which assesses skin hydration.
The company isn’t just warning users about their UV exposure to look out for them. The app will occasionally offer shoppable product recommendations from La Roche-Posay when it makes sense, like if conditions warrant using a high-SPF sunscreen or if a user could benefit from sensitive skin-care products to mitigate overexposure.
“Consumers have the option to shop, but we don’t want to be too pushy,” he said. “If we educate and coach them properly on why they need to use certain kinds of products, they’re more likely to want them anyway.”
While UV Sense is not the first wearable to track an individual’s UV exposure — others include Microsoft’s Band2 and the Violet by Ultra — it’s the first to be battery-free. The device is solar-powered and connected to an app (available on iOS and Android) on the user’s cell phone. That app uses near-field communication technology to transfer data sent over from the wearable, which is then translated to keep users mindful of their UV exposure, warning them, when necessary, to spend some time in the shade or reapply sunscreen.
The technology is a spinoff of the “My UV Patch” — a stretchable skin sticker, which also monitored UV exposure in connection with an app — that L’Oréal distributed for free in La Roche-Posay outlets in 2016. After giving out over one million patches across 37 different countries, the company used subsequent feedback provided by both consumer and clinical studies to finesse both the UV Sense and a new, limited-edition version of the patch designed by Behar.
In partnership with the market research firm Ipsos, for instance, L’Oréal found that although users changed their behaviors from wearing the patch — with 34 percent applying sunscreen more often and 37 percent trying to stay in the shade more frequently — they wanted a smaller wearable with longer wear and real-time data. So, alongside being smaller, the UV Sense delivers instant updates regarding UV exposure risk (low, medium or high) and allows users to view their exposure trends over time. The dashboard also displays local weather stats, including the humidity, UV index, temperature, pollen level and air quality, and will feature content like videos of dermatologists giving skin-care advice.
L’Oréal’s limited-edition UV Patch
L’Oréal, which has been working on the UV Sense for roughly two years, has long been a proponent of sun safety through its funding of research by the Melanoma Research Alliance, as well as public education campaigns such as skin screenings. But, outside of selling sunscreen, this is one of the company’s largest consumer-facing investments in the space, and one that it hopes to roll out alongside other brands, if it finds success with La Roche-Posay.
“We’re proud to be able to continue perfecting a technology that has the power to save lives and break boundaries in the beauty industry,” said Balooch.