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How technology is helping us tackle our urban health problems

Life in the city can play havoc with our physical well-being, but advancements in health and beauty applications make it easier for us to keep putting our best face forward 

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 February, 2018, 10:18am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 9:47am

City living can take a toll on even the fittest of urban warriors. From skin problems to sound pollution, busy cosmopolitan hubs like Hong Kong generate a host of challenges that can impact on our health. 

Take the body’s largest organ: the skin.

Pollutionand ultraviolet (UV) rays conspire to create a cocktail of chemicals that urbanites step out into every day, and which can have a major impact on our looks– triggering premature ageing, spots, sagging skin, etc. Skin in distress has become an increasing health problem. Eczema is now the most common paediatric skin condition, prevalent in 15-20 per cent of children globally, and 30 per cent of Hong Kong children, according to the University of Hong Kong.

Yet thanks to advancements in health and beauty technology, treatments that were once only available through a professional salon or doctor’s office can now be replicated in the comfort and privacy of our own connected smart homes. Putting your best face forward has never been easier.

Take Neutrogena’s new dermatologist-grade at-home skin analysis tool. Attached to the user’s smartphone, the SkinScanner powered by FitSkin  uses precision technology to reveal key metrics of skin health that are invisible to the naked eye. Built with 12 high-powered lights, a 30x magnification lens, and highly-accurate sensors, it captures the size and appearance of pores, the size and depth of fine lines and wrinkles, and measures the skin’s moisture levels. You don’t have to interpret the findings – there’s an app for that. 

Each time the skin is scanned, data is sent to the Skin360 app for analysis and recommendations. The app uses machine learning to become more precise and intelligent. Skincare goals can be set and results recorded – and  benchmarked using crowdsourced data from others using the app.

While you’re out having fun in the sun, beauty company L’Oréal protects vulnerable city skin with the first battery-free wearable electronic UV sensor. A step up from last year’s My UV Patch (a stretchable skin sensor which encourages users to apply sunscreen), the new UV Sense is smaller and offers longer wear and real-time data.

It’s designed to be worn on the thumbnail – a body part which receives optimal sunlight – while an accompanying mobile app transfers data from the sensor using Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled technology. This builds a profile outlining a user’s exposure levels, sun-safety habits – like spending time in the shade or reapplying sunscreen – and offers additional tips for sun protection.

Noisy urban environments and bad acoustics make it difficult for millions of people – estimated at up to 1 billion worldwide – to understand speech in their everyday life. Even office team meetings or coffee shop chats can be stressful for those affected.

With the new wireless Hearpieces by Danish sound engineering company LIZN, no one need ever know.

The directional microphones and intelligent software built into the discreet, in-ear LIZN Hearpieces improve the ability to comprehend what is being said by the person in front of you, while simultaneously dampening any background noise. Meanwhile, the sound of the user’s own voice stays natural. The company has combined advanced hearing aid technology and smartphone components to offer audio functionality at an affordable price point. Its device also acts as a regular earbud for listening to music and making phone calls.

The increasing numbers of people living with hypertension, or high blood pressure, know the importance of regular monitoring of this chronic condition. 

Third of adults in China suffer high blood pressure, study suggests

Imagine how more convenient that could be if a smartwatch could do it for you.

Omron, maker of medical-grade heart health devices, has the solution with HeartGuide, a fitness watch with an inflatable cuff built into the band. 

The breakthrough came with a flexible synthetic material that is five times stronger than steel, and used in the airbags of NASA’s Mars Lander. Its strength and flexibility allow the band to inflate and take a reading while maintaining its shape to ensure accurate measurement. 

HeartGuide also tracks sleep quality, and can be programmed to take the wearer’s measurement while they’re asleep, the time during which the risk of heart attack rises.

And for all those who struggle to sleep soundly at night – as around 40 per cent of Hongkongers report – Philips comes to the rescue with SmartSleep, a new deep sleep-inducing head-worn wearable.

Beyond merely tracking sleep patterns, this device has two small sensors that intervene with technology to boost periods of slow-wave sleep in real time. Sleep experts and neurologists have collaborated on the brand’s proprietary advanced sleep analysis algorithms to lull the user with customised audio tones that enhance the depth and duration of sleep. An accompanying app logs improvement over time and provides tips and advice on how to get the best possible night’s sleep. 

All of these innovative health technologies are slated to come to market this year.