How technology can support the individual and ensure compliance in sun care

Wilma McDaniel, Commercial Director at Cutitronics 

There have been incredible advances in sun care in the last 30 years, not least in the improvement of the sensory elements of sunscreen. High factor sunscreens, available since the advent of SPF in the 1980s, were a tough sell. Often these thick, opaque, heavy to apply creams created a physical barrier from the sun’s harmful rays. However, people were put off by the sensation and appearance of these products.

Over the years we have seen great innovation and improvements. Manufacturers created chassis that were less opaque on the skin and deemed more acceptable for use by the consumer. The importance of SPF was still not widely understood, however, and popular brands of sunscreen often contained extremely low factors that we now understand to offer insufficient protection.

There was also confusion about how to apply sunscreen correctly to avoid sun damage. Sunlight was considered beneficial in many respects, and bronzed skin remained the hallmark of health and youth. If you did not burn, the popular belief was that no damage would be done. As a result, sunscreen was often applied too little, too late.

Although we now have a better understanding about the importance of sun care, the consumer remains confused about how to use sunscreen correctly to ensure they are fully protected. The British Association of Dermatologists reports that most people use less than half of the amount of sunscreen required to provide appropriate protection.

Like any skincare regime, to get the most out of your sun care it is vital to understand your own unique requirements. You need to know where you fall on the Fitzpatrick scale (a system devised to classify your skin type based on the amount of pigment your skin has, and its reaction to sun exposure) and what condition your skin is in.

Your surrounding environment is another factor to consider. For example, if you are in the city and likely to experience higher levels of pollution, your skin will have different needs than if you live on the coast, where abrasive wind is more likely to aggravate your skin.

We must also consider the changeable nature of skin. If you are doing something active, you are likely to perspire and need to reapply your product more regularly. Hormonal changes, such as those often experienced by women throughout pregnancy, can also impact the skin’s sensitivity to sunlight.

Clearly, we must take a personalised approach to our sun care. But how can we expect people to fully understand and monitor all these changeable factors?  Diagnostics and education are key to help the consumer better understand their own unique needs, but it is through technology that we will equip them to meet their sun care requirements and ensure compliance of product use.

Technology allows us to pull together the scientific data now available and present it to the customer in an easy to understand way. For example, apps can tell us the UV index in any location in real time. This, and additional information fed into an app, could be used to inform the consumer on what formulation they require at that time.

A consultation by a trained advisor can help consumers understand where they are on the Fitzpatrick scale, optical diagnostic tools can also be used to build confidence in the consumer on the accuracy of this measurement and is the first step in understanding what your individual skin really needs.

Although in sun care we see most focus on prevention, we should also consider what can be done to help repair already damaged skin. Older people, and those who have spent time in hotter climes, often have skin damage as a result of prolonged sun exposure. There are actives (natural ingredients scientifically proven to change skin at a cellular level) now available to help repair some of this damage, but they must be used consistently over time to see results.

Optical diagnostics can offer us the ability to measure gradual incremental improvement in pigmentation and therefore provide a guide to skin repair that has occurred to date which will encourage continued use, even though the results are not yet truly visible – much like the way one pound weight loss per week may not be noticeable, but when viewed on the measuring scales is likely to encourage someone to continue a new health regime until they achieve their target weight.

Technology also enables sun care brands to better connect with the consumer to advise, educate and inspire. Tutorial videos can offer information on how much product you need to use, and apps can remind you when you should apply it. These immediate reminders can be immeasurably helpful – life is busy and we don’t always have time to think about the specific volume we should use of a product or exactly how long it had been since we last applied sunscreen. Technology can unburden the consumer by automatically flagging to them when exactly action is required.

The gamification of this process also inspires the consumer to compete with themselves to do better, much like a personal fitness tracker encourages us to take more steps. Have you met your sunscreen target for today? No – better top up then!

We have the data available to us to ensure we never again burn in the sun – the consumer only needs to comply.  Technology can empower us to understand fully our unique sun care needs, in real time, minimising our risk of sun damage by getting the best result from the right formulation for the individual.