Burning issue

Scientists at Strathclyde University have developed a device that can give an early warning of sunburn and help to prevent skin cancer.

The team, from the University’s Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry, has produced an indicator that changes colour when a risk of burning emerges. Its sensitivity to ultraviolet light enables it to give an alert before sunburn becomes apparent on the skin.

This can take between four and eight hours and by then it is already too late to prevent damage.

Sunbathers 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 colour, 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. 

Prof Andrew Mills, who led the research, said: ‘Skin cancer is a huge health problem in the UK 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 ultraviolet light.’

The indicator works by using an acid-release agent that picks up ultraviolet 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 colour. Different agents could be used to make the device fit for various skin types.

The Strathclyde team’s research has been published in the latest edition of Chemical Communications.