L’Oréal’s wearables effort just went on a charm offensive.
On Sunday, ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the beauty giant unveiled its new UV Sense — a tiny, battery-free electronic UV device that sits on the thumb’s nail bed — as well as a limited-edition redesign of My UV Patch, the stretchable skin sensor that made its debut at CES in 2016. Both technologies come courtesy of the company’s La Roche-Posay brand.
In terms of product design and technology, UV Sense represents an evolution of My UV Patch. According to L’Oréal, the nail tech builds on the patch’s architecture, to extend the monitoring of people’s UV exposure and track trends over time with instant updates.
The company surveyed users of My UV Patch, and learned that — although people did change their behavior, with 34 percent using sunscreen and 37 percent staying in the shade more often — they wanted a smaller wearable with longer wear and real-time data.
The new UV Sense is less than 2 millimeters thick and 9 millimeters across, and can be worn for up to two weeks on the thumbnail, a spot that the company says receives optimal sunlight.
The tiny device could have been cast in flesh tones, to blend in with the nail, but is instead available in a range of colors. From a distance, it reads like nail art. According to Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal’s Technology Incubator, that’s exactly the point.
The company wanted to expand the device’s appeal by blending problem-solving technology and human-centered design. “Beauty trends show that adoption of wearable nail art accessories is on the rise, with a more than 65 percent increase in nail art trends over the last five years,” Balooch said. “Our innovation taps into this growing trend, while illustrating our deep commitment to sun-safe behavior and protection.”
For the aesthetic, the company joined forces with Yves Behar, designer entrepreneur and founder of fuseproject. “Design and technology are inextricably linked, and as products become more personalized to individuals, both elements are integral to providing people with seamless experiences,” Behar explained. “By working with L’Oréal, we are able to pair deep expertise in beauty tech with an effective design that enhances consumers’ well-being without distracting from their everyday lives.”
Activated by UVA and UVB rays, the sensor can hold up to three months of data. It works with the customer’s smartphone, syncing data to iPhones and Android devices over Near-Field Communication, an ultra low-power communications technology for wireless data transmission. Most consumers have used NFC in some form or another, such as pressing transit passes against bus readers or tapping to pay with their phones.
In this case, NFC allows the battery-free UV Sense to communicate with smartphone apps, so the system can record and track ultraviolet exposure over time. While not the first sensor to forego lithium-ion power cells, L’Oréal is promoting it as the first wearable electronic UV sensor to be powered without a battery.
The mobile app also lets people parse their UV data in real time, and easily see when they need to pay attention to their exposure. With that, they can take extra precautions, such as seeking shade or slathering on more sunscreen.
Of course, none of that works if the user won’t wear it. Toward that end, UV Sense can be placed in different settings, from clips to pendants.
If UV Sense acts like nail art or an accessory, then My UV Patch is more like a skin sticker or tattoo. The original patch debuted as a blue heart that takes on more white blocks with UV exposure. The new limited-edition version sets them as diamonds.
Since the patch’s launch, La Roche-Posay has distributed more than a million units to users across 37 countries free of charge to encourage safer behavior. Now consumers have two options: They can use My UV Patch to track exposure for several days, or move up to UV Sense to track for several weeks.
Both technologies draw from L’Oréal’s work with wearable tech company MC10, Inc. and professor John Rogers at Northwestern University, an expert and researcher whose intellectual property includes flexible, stretchable electronics.
The nail-worn UV Sense will be available through La Roche-Posay this summer in the U.S. on a limited basis, with a global launch slated for 2019. No word yet on when the limited-edition My UV Patch will be available, but the company urges consumers to visit the La Roche-Posay website for more information.