Sticking the My UV Skin patch on your arm is a cinch. It’s as simple as applying a Band-Aid or a nicotine patch. There’s one crucial difference: This personalized sun protection device has five layers of micron-thin electronics, including near field communication capabilities. But the creators of this particular wearable would just as soon you didn’t think about any of that. For it to be successful, in fact, you’ll need to conveniently ignore that it’s a piece of sophisticated technology—so much so that you’ll throw it away after five days. L’Oréal wants you to think of it as skin care.
“If L’Oréal put a product in front of you and said, ‘Here, put this on your skin,’ there’s a good chance you’re going to test it,” says Liam Casey, CEO of PCH International, the engineering and design firm that helped create the product. “If, like, HP put it out there and said, ‘Hey, put that on your skin,’ . . . I’m sorry.”
When L’Oréal’s La Roche Posay skin-care brand rolled out its digital UV tattoo at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, it received widespread attention. A sticker that measures UV exposure and connects with your smartphone to notify you to put on sunscreen is a winning pitch. And it represents a far larger opportunity—the merging of the $115 billion global skin-care market with the $223 billion consumer electronics industry.
“Today you have a lot of NFCs in things like the hotel reader cards where it lets you open your hotel,” says Guive Balooch, global vice president of L’Oréal Technology Incubator, where My UV Skin was born. “But . . . this is going to be the future. I’m sure of it. The new wearables in the next few years will be all around being able to put things on your body.”
That said, producing a line of technology products doesn’t come naturally to a company that has historically specialized in chemistry. And while L’Oréal pushes millions of tubes of lipstick every year, scaling up a supply chain in the electronics industry requires a different kind of know-how.
Billed as a “second skin electronic wearable,” the patch monitors how much UV exposure you’re getting on any given day and gives you personalized care recommendations based on your skin color, tone, and type. It all connects to an app that analyzes data from the patch’s sensors and determines how much UV exposure you’ve received. (Hint: skin damage happens way sooner than you think!).
All that happens inside a patch that is about 50 microns thick (around half the width of a human hair). There are five layers, starting with the adhesive strip that sticks to your skin. The next layer includes an NFC coil, as well as the microchip that sends a signal to your phone to open the app. The next couple of layers contain the dyes that change color and pattern showing, even without a phone, that the patch is working. And finally a substrate that seals the whole package into a heart shape and prevents rusting of the metals inside.