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A Golden Opportunity for Sun Lovers to Clock Exposure : Products: Advanced Safety Devices markets a watch to minimize the burn--and the risk--for tan seekers.


CHATSWORTH — Growing fears that bronzed skin could mean skin problems is bad news for tanning salons, but Chatsworth-based Advanced Safety Devices Inc. thinks it's a golden opportunity. The company, which doesn't shy from using the word gadgety to describe its products, is the U.S. distributor for a watch that measures ultraviolet rays and purports to tell sun bathers how long to stay out to avoid a sunburn.

The watch, called the SunCast Sunwatch UV Monitor, is manufactured by Saitek Industries of Hong Kong. It looks just like many digital watches, and tells time like them, too. But it also has an ultraviolet sensor.

Program in the factor of sun block you're using, and your skin type, and the watch does the rest, sounding an alarm when it deems it time to seek refuge from the sun's hostile glare.

The Sunwatch will help make people more aware of the danger of ultraviolet radiation and sunburns, which have been linked to skin cancer, contends Steve Wallace, national sales manager for Advanced Safety Devices. "People can be very ignorant toward" the dangers of ultraviolet rays, he said.

But Advanced Safety Devices is not the first product to try to cash in on sunburn concern. Past products have included patches taped on skin that change color with sun exposure, and radiation meters worn around the neck, according to Dr. Marvin Rapaport, a dermatologist practicing in Beverly Hills.

Wallace, of Advanced Safety Devices, said the company is banking on increasingly sophisticated methods of tracking ultraviolet radiation levels, such as new UV index forecasting services, to boost interest in the watch. Also, they say, the Sunwatch is different from other sun monitor products because it is waterproof, and aims to be stylish--it comes in six colors.

The watch sells for $39, and comes with a 10-page booklet with instructions in English and Spanish. So far, Advanced Safety Devices has sold it through catalogues, gadget stores and chain stores such as Fry's Electronics, and it will soon begin hawking it on QVC Inc.'s home shopping channel.

Wallace said the watch has been examined by "quite a few dermatologists" who liked it, and its calculations are based on tests conducted in hot, UV-soaked Australia. But local dermatologists were lukewarm.

"I think anything that warns people to stay out of the sun could be a value," said Dr. Michael Bastien, a Westlake Village dermatologist and skin pathologist. "But you don't want a false sense of security . . . a little bit of radiation is not good either."

"It's a bit of a double-edged sword," said Rapaport. He said the watch might be useful for gardeners, construction workers, and others who must be outside on the job all day. And it might be gratifying for "some people who are very compulsive" and like to count things, he said.

But for most people, reasonable precautions--a hat and some sun block--are probably the extent of what's needed when playing tennis on a sunny day, he said. As for lying out on the beach in pursuit of a "Baywatch" tan? That's not something many dermatologists smile on, Sunwatch or no Sunwatch.

"Would I tell someone to go out and buy it?" Rapaport asked. "No."

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