A new sun sensor app is being trialled in New Zealand schools in a bid to improve children's sun safety and reduce the nation's skin cancer rates.

The UVLens was developed by technology start-up Spark64 and has been donated by sunscreen company Banana Boat to 100 early childhood education centres across the country.

The sensors are set up in the playground and send information to a tablet in the classroom to inform teachers of UV levels before kids go outside to play. The app also sends prompts for when to apply and re-apply sunscreen.

Inventor Daniel Xu said coming from New Zealand, one of the biggest problems was skin cancer and he wanted to design an app to tackle the issue.


"Something like 65,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year -- it's just terrible.

"We looked into how we prevent skin cancer from happening in the first place, and realised that one of the major factors was over-exposure to UV, and it was mainly because it was very difficult for us to manage and control how much UV we're getting.

"It's hard for us to judge how strong the UV is at any part of the day, so being able to deliver that indication of how strong the sun is means people could do much better in looking after themselves and others."

However, at $295 each the devices don't come cheap. Mr Xu said they were looking at cheaper, domestic versions down the pipeline.

Milford Baptist Kindergarten supervisor Luisa Mackenzie said the sensor was installed just over a week ago and it had proved useful in establishing whether it was safe to let the children play outside or not.

"About three times today we had to refer to it and get the children to slap up and to put their hats on.

"There was a moment when it was telling us that it was at [a] dangerous point so we had to keep the children in.

"We've got it on all the time and and so it is available for the children to have a look."


Cancer Society spokeswoman Louise Sanford said anything which promoted sun safety was a good thing, but said the charity would not endorse a tool which came at an expense to schools.

"Our messaging is fairly simple, to reapply sunscreen every two hours and to be sun smart between September and April."



- What is UV?

It is produced by the sun and cannot be seen or felt, but causes damage to your skin. Over-exposure to UV from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer.

- How is it measured?

An international standard index called UVI. A UVI level below three is low and a UVI level above 10 is extremely high. Temperature is not a good indicator as even when the temperature is cool, UV levels can still be very high.

- When should I apply sun protection?

Whenever the UVI level is three and above, sun protection is required because it is intense enough to damage the skin and contribute to the risk of skin cancer.

- When am I most at risk?

In New Zealand the UVI is usually higher than three between September and April, particularly between 10am and 4pm; and in winter at high altitude and in snow.

- How can I protect myself?

Wear sun-protective clothing, including sunglasses and a hat that protects your face, head, neck, and ears; try to stay in the shade; apply SPF30 sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside, and re-apply every two hours.

(Source: Cancer Society)