Skin-thin NFC Patch Goes to Market

By Claire Swedberg

A version of the adhesive patch—no thicker than a human hair—is currently being tested by L'Oreal to help consumers track their sun exposure.


PCH, a designer of custom product solutions, is manufacturing and marketing a thin adhesive patch that employs Near Field Communication (NFC) RFID and photosensitive dye to help users track their exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. L’Oréal plans to market the tattoo-like devices, developed by Massachusetts-based startup MC10, under the brand name My UV Patch. The skin patch is currently being trialed in beta form, says Emily Stephens, L’Oréal’s corporate communications director, and is expected to be rolled out more widely later this year, when it will be made available at select dermatologist offices and Women’s Dermatological Society skin-check events, as well as via certain retailers.

PCH, which maintains corporate headquarters in Cork, Ireland, and operational headquarters in Shenzhen, China, is also taking MC10’s Wearable Interactive Stamp Platform (WiSP) system to markets beyond beauty and health care. Because the flexible patch comes with a built-in NFC chip, PCH reports, it can serve a variety of purposes, and the company is now in conversations with several customers that could use it for payments or identification in such applications as music festivals, theme parks and cruise lines. What make WiSP unique, according to PCH and MC10, are its thin form factor and its ability to be affixed to a user’s skin. The system can be used for various transactions, such as proving a person’s identity at an entrance gate, or making a payment without requiring plastic ID cards, credit cards or a mobile phone.

L’Oréal’s My UV skin patch contains an NFC RFID inlay, along with a layer of dye that changes color upon exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

“PCH will design, engineer and manufacture the [WiSP] product to meet the requirements and market needs of other brands interested in the smart stamp platform,” says Andre Yousefi, a co-founder of PCH Lime Lab, PCH’s design engineering division. “We already have interest from several major third-party brands who are looking to create an engaging consumer experience using this technology platform.”

MC10, which developed the underlying NFC and sensor technology, was founded in 2008 by University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign professor John Rogers, in order to commercialize his work developing stretchable, wearable biometric sensors in the school’s lab. The patches he developed, with built-in electronics, were designed to be flexible.

“Electronic technology, traditionally rigid and bulky, was now able to flex, twist and stretch to match the properties of the human body,” says Ben Schlatka, MC10’s co-founder and VP of corporate development. “We have found that the application that has the most promise, and that will do the most good, is in the health-care sector. We have devoted our resources to the mission of expanding the knowledge of human health.”

To that end, MC10 also offers wearable sensor patches known as BioStamps, though these do not come with NFC technology. Neither MC10 nor PCH has immediate plans to make a patch that integrates the NFC inlay with a sensor so that the sensor data can be uploaded directly to an NFC-enabled smartphone.

The My UV Patch adheres directly to a person’s skin and monitors the amount of UV radiation to which it—and, therefore, the wearer’s skin—is exposed. The adhesive patch measures approximately 1 square inch and is 50 microns thick (half the width of an average strand of hair). The patch has a heart-shaped design and is filled with various shades of blue and white squares, which contain photosensitive dye. It can act as a “second skin,” the company explains, and can be worn for up to five days, even while a person is swimming, showering or playing sports. As the photosensitive dyes within the patch are exposed to UV rays, squares of color will change to indicate varying levels of sun exposure, while others will remain unchanged to provide a baseline comparison, factoring in an individual’s unique skin tone.

Consumers will be able to download the My UV Patch application, which will be available for use with an NFC-enabled Android or iOS smartphone, and then use that phone to read the patch’s built-in passive NFC RFID inlay. A user will be able to photograph the patch with the phone and then upload that image to software running on a server hosted by L’Oreal. The software will analyze the varying shades of blue and determine the amount of UV exposure that the wearer has received. The app will then offer suggestions regarding when to reapply sunscreen at the proper sun protection factor (SPF), in addition to indicating how much sun exposure that person has received. L’Oreal says it created the My UV Patch to encourage sun-safe behavior.

Manufacturing a patch the width of a human hair, with an NFC chip and an antenna, posed some challenge for PCH, Yousefi notes. “We had to overcome many challenges to stack multiple layers into a form factor that is just 0.05 millimeter [0.002 inch] thick,” he says. MC10 developed the underlying WiSP technology and, with PCH, refined it for commercial production. PCH then built a custom assembly that combined multiple suppliers and processes for the NCF antenna, as well as thin film lamination, high-precision silkscreen, a high-tolerance layering stack and die-cutting.

PCH Lime Lab’s Andre Yousefi

The resulting patch is intended to fit into an individual’s daily activities, both in terms of comfort and appearance. Because it is flexible, Yousefi adds, a wearer often forgets it is attached to his or her body. Visually, he says, the patch is hardly noticeable, but it can be customized with a logo or graphic, adding a branding or personalization opportunity.

Several use cases across various customer-engagement experiences are currently being explored for the WiSP platform, Yousefi says. These include applications in entertainment (such as sporting events and concerts) and hospitality (hotels, cruises and theme parks). The patch is disposable and can be produced at mass consumer scale.

“We envision scenarios where skin-worn technology could be used at concerts, theme parks or large public gatherings,” Yousefi says, “to enable a variety of interactions with consumers.”

MC10’s Ben Schlatka

Although Yousefi declines to identify what the price will be, he says the product is disposable and the cost is thus expected to be much lower than that of a traditional wearable product.

PCH is now in discussions with multiple brands to customize the system according to consumer applications. “We are eager to work with third-party brands who will be in the best position to envision how this platform can be utilized to provide personalized interactions,” Yousefi states.

L’Oreal has exclusive rights for the WiSP technology for all beauty applications.