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Dosimeter Can Predict, Prevent Sunburn

Posted: April 9, 2009

A device that can give an early warning of sunburn, and help to prevent skin cancer, has been developed by scientists at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland. The team from the University's department of pure and applied chemistry has produced an indicator that changes color when a risk of burning emerges. Its sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV)light enables it to give an alert before sunburn becomes apparent on the skin, which can take between four and eight hours, and by then it is already too late to prevent damage.

People spending time in the sun may be able to wear the indicator, known as a dosimeter, in the form of a wristband. The model developed at Strathclyde has the advantage of a marked change in color, and so makes the danger of sunburn obvious. It is normally coloured yellow, but rapidly turns pink when approaching the limit skin can take before burning.

Andrew Mills, PhD, who led the research, said, "Skin cancer is a huge health problem in the United Kingdom and many other countries, and sunburn is behind it in many cases. This device is a straightforward means for people to keep themselves safe while they enjoy the sun. It can also be modified and adapted for use with all skin types, which can react differently to UV light."

The indicator works by using an acid-release agent that picks up UV light and a dye that responds to pH levels in the indicator. The agent is decomposed by sunlight and this leads to the quick change in color. Different agents could be used to make the device work for various skin types.