Sunburn Safety: Innovating Ways to Protect from UV Rays

By Steve Brachmann
July 20, 2013

The summer months are a great time to enjoy a wide array of outdoor activities, like swimming, running or different types of team sports. However, even just a few hours outside with unprotected skin can create a sunburn that’s not just uncomfortable but possibly damaging.

A person with fair skin can develop a sunburn in 30 minutes, even when the ultraviolet (UV) index is at low levels. However, many don’t protect themselves like they should with clothing and sunblock lotion. In fact, a study conducted by Macmillan Cancer Support found that 40 percent of those in Britain that sunbathe for a tan purposefully continue until they’ve gotten a sunburn, even when many know that this increases their risk of contracting skin cancer.

Today in IPWatchdog’s Summer Fun series, we’re looking at a series of patent applications and issued patents protecting systems of improving protections from UV radiation. A number of these documents regard new systems of determining unsafe levels of radiation. One patent application has been filed to protect an apparatus that detects the level of sunburn developing on a person’s skin. Another application protects a reactive dye that changes color to indicate UV radiation levels. An issued patent protects a test strip kit that can also indicate unsafe UV levels prior to going outside.

Treatments for sunburn are another major focus for developers of UV radiation protections. One issued patent protects an orally administered treatment that helps prevent against sunburns. A final patent application featured here has been filed to protect a topical ointment that can either prevent or treat sunburns while improving on prior chemical compositions for sunblock lotion.


Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays can be damaging to the eyes and skin. If human skin encounters too much sunlight, it may form erythema, or a reddening of the skin commonly referred to as “sunburn.” Although erythema will disappear with time, the formation of erythema can lead to a higher risk of skin cancer.

This patent application, assigned to Taiwanese electronics developer TPO Displays Corp., creates a system where a portable electronic device with a camera can detect if an erythema is forming. A light-emitting device on the device illuminates a person’s skin with green, red and blue light. The camera captures the light reflectance and the device’s display screen shows an indicator of the level of sunburn that is forming on the skin.

Claim 1 of this patent application would protect for TPO Displays:

“A portable measuring apparatus for detecting sunburn of a user, comprising: a display module, comprising: a light-emitting device, emitting red, green and blue light to illuminate skin of the user; and a sensing device, receiving and measuring reflected red, green and blue light from the skin of the user in response to the emitted red, green and blue light, respectively; and a processing device coupled to the display module, obtaining red, green and blue reflectance according to the reflected red, green and blue light, respectively, generating a sunburn index according to the red, green and blue reflectance and displaying the sunburn index on the display module, wherein the sunburn index indicates onset of sunburn for the user.”

Method for Retarding and Preventing Sunburn by UV Light
U.S. Patent No. 6433025

Each year, there are approximately 800,000 new cases of skin cancer in the United States; about one in 75 Americans develop a case of malignant melanoma during their lives. Although 95 percent of skin cancer cases are curable, cases where malignant melanoma develops are much more deadly; over five years, the survival rate for those who have contracted melanoma is 85 percent.

This patent, obtained by solo inventor Todd Lorenz of Kailua-Kona, HI, protects the manufacture of an orally administered medication that reduces the risk of contracting melanoma. Free radicals developed by the skin after excessive exposure to sunlight contribute heavily to the increased risk of contracting skin cancer. Astaxanthin, a biological chemical that gives a pinkish color to salmon and shrimp, is an antioxidant substance with 500 times the power of vitamin E. A daily oral supplement developed with 1 to 100 milligrams of astaxanthin can help protect human skin in areas experiencing a high amount of UV radiation, including high elevations or regions close to the equator.

As Claim 1 explains, this patent application would provide legal protections for:

“A method to retard and prevent sunburns of the skin, comprising orally administering, to a patient in need thereof, a therapeutically effective dose of a formulation comprising astaxanthin as the single active ingredient.”

Sunburn Treatment and Sunburn Prevention Method
U.S. Patent Application No. 20050025723

Topical ointment treatments are popular for the prevention or treatment of sunburns, but there are shortcomings to many current ointment formulas. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can diminish the onset of a sunburn, but only if applied within a certain time frame. Wearing extra clothing to block sunlight reduces the amount of outdoor activities one can enjoy. Sunblock lotion can either chemically absorb or reflect sunlight, but absorbers tend to stain clothing while reflecting substances, like zinc oxide talc, are cumbersome to apply.

This patent application, filed by James Lipton of Woodland Hills, CA, protects a new type of topical ointment for preventing or treating sunburns. This ointment utilizes the polypeptide alpha-melanocyte stimulating hormone (a-MSH). a-MSH is an amino acid with thirteen peptides that is secreted naturally by the pituitary cells and monocytes. In larger quantities, this substance can provide antipyretic and anti-inflammatory benefits without toxic effects.

Claim 1 of this patent application would give Mr. Lipton the right to protect:

“A sunburn treatment comprising: a carrier to be applied to cutaneous inflammation caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation; at least one polypeptide including an amino acid sequence selected from a group consisting of KPV (SEQ. ID. NO. 1), MEHFRWG (SEQ. ID. NO. 2), HFRWGKPV (SEQ. ID. NO. 3), SYSMEHFRWGKPV (SEQ. ID. NO. 4), or a biologically functional equivalent of any of the foregoing; wherein the at least one polypeptide is at a level to effectively treat the cutaneous inflammation; and wherein the carrier carries the at least one polypeptide.”

Use of Test Strips to Determine the UV Intensity or to Pre-Determine the Duration of Stay in the Sun Without Sunburn
U.S. Patent No. 5589398

The two factors that are most important in contracting a sunburn are the level of UV radiation encountered and the duration of time over which radiation is sustained. Photoactive instruments, often worn around the wrist, can detect levels of UV radiation and alert a user to when an unsafe level of radiation has been encountered by a wearer. However, these instruments are expensive and may provide a poor reading of UV radiation if the instrument is blocked from sunlight in any way.

This patent, issued to Boehringer Mannheim in December of 1996, protects a test strip pack that can let an individual know when they have experienced an unsafe level of UV radiation based on their skin type. The test strip system includes a skin type matrix that can inform a user how much sunlight they can experience on a given day before they go outside instead of simply notifying a user when too much UV radiation has been received.

As Claim 1 states, Boehringer Mannheim has held the official right to protect:

“A method for predetermining the length of exposure to sunlight without sunburn for a person, comprising the following steps:

exposing to sunlight, a test strip comprising a matrix attached to a flat foil strip, wherein said matrix contains 18-molybdodiphosphoric acid, and

comparing any color changes in said photoactive chromogenic substance with a chart which correlates color changes in said photoactive chromogenic substance with the maximum duration of exposure to ultraviolet radiation possible without sunburn to the person.”

Combination and Method for Indicating a Certain UV Radiation Dose
U.S. Patent Application No. 20080259315

Determining the amount of a UV radiation dose encountered by an individual is one way to prevent excessive damage to the skin. If a person is aware that too much UV radiation has been experienced, that person can move to shaded areas and stop the radiation from bombarding their skin. Dyes that change color based on UV radiation are often used for these indicators, but many dyes will begin to revert to their original color when removed from sunlight. This prevents these dyes from giving an accurate reading on the UV radiation encountered by a person over a long period of time.

This patent application has been filed by Frank Mersch of Leichlingen, Germany, and is meant to protect a system of UV radiation detection that creates an unequivocal color change which won’t revert if removed from UV exposure. The indicator uses a mixture of substances that uses titanium dioxide as a photocatalyst which reacts with resazurin, or a similar type of irreversibly reacting redox dyes.

Claim 1 of this patent application is designed to protect:

“A method for indicating a certain UV radiation dose, comprising: presenting a mixture of substances, containing a substance of defined UV photoactivity, a redox dye and a substance acting as a sacrificial electron donor; exposing the mixture of substances to UV radiation; and detecting a defined color change when a certain UV radiation dose is reached.”

The Author

Steve Brachmann

Steve Brachmann is a freelance journalist located in Buffalo, New York. He has worked professionally as a freelancer for more than a decade. He writes about technology and innovation. His work has been published by The Buffalo News, The Hamburg Sun,,, Motley Fool and Steve also provides website copy and documents for various business clients and is available for research projects and freelance work.

Warning & Disclaimer: The pages, articles and comments on do not constitute legal advice, nor do they create any attorney-client relationship. The articles published express the personal opinion and views of the author and should not be attributed to the author’s employer, clients or the sponsors of Read more.

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