Barrier Solutions: The Creation of a consumer early warning ‘tool box’ for health and wellbeing towards skin cancer prevention

  • Farrer, Joan (PI)

Project Details


The project was business-orientated research, sponsored by Santander Bank, and was a proof of concept project based at the School of Architecture and Design.Dr Joan Farrer, Reader in Design and Materials led a team of researchers pioneering cross-disciplinary and inter-institutional research to reduce the risks of developing skin cancer.

Incidence of skin cancer and particular melanoma is increasing all over the world including the UK. In New Zealand where there is large population of light skinned people seeking an outdoor lifestyle where the UV levels are significantly high, it is the most common cancer.The annual public costs of melanoma in New Zealand have recently been estimated as 24.4 million dollars.

The highest risk group are young males around the age of 15 -24 who spend time outdoors unprotected, typically in a beach setting.Generally lighter skinned people are at higher risk than dark skinned but everyone is at some risk. Skin types are 1-V1 (1 being the lightest).

Research has found that the UV protection factor (UPF) is better in textiles that are tight weave and dark. Stretch and moisture reduces the UPF. Non-stretch dark tightly woven fabrics are the most effective. Denim is one good example but obviously this is usually too hot to wear in these climates.

Recent research has found that colour influences the UPF. Red and blue gives more protection than yellow. Skin cancer awareness campaigns have been found to be effective in reducing incidence.

The most common sites for skin cancer are on the head and neck: side of face, side of nose, ears, chin and neck. (These are also areas that are obviously out of sight- i.e. not easy to monitor by the individual). Areas of high UV exposure and the perception of a tanned body as healthy and attractive.

The team was composed of University of Brighton experts in design and materials , Smart textiles, fashion, Human Computer Interaction, cancer and wellbeing. Collaborators in the research included Heriot Watt University, Imperial College, Cancer Research organisations and testing labs in the UK and the Antipodes. Joan Farrer, Cressida Bowyer, Sarah Robertson, Petar Goulev, Marney Walker, Tom Ainsworth, Juliana Sissons, Carolyn Watt.

The research aimed to create desirable clothing made of protective ‘smart’ textiles incorporating fibres that interact with computer intelligence and digital communication to provide ‘early warning systems’ of over-exposure to the sun.

Dr Farrer previously worked with the Cancer Society New Zealand when she was Director of the Universities Textiles and Design Research Lab and Associate Professor of Fashion and Textile Design at Auckland University of Technology.

The research drew together the key industries of leisure, health, fashion and computing and was informed by Dr Farrer’s research and development, consumer analysis and data collected in the Antipodes.

The ecological and social conditions in the Southern hemisphere contribute to a more ‘out-of-doors’ lifestyle, and this has resulted in an alarming increase in skin cancer rates in recent years, where the most vulnerable group are males between the age of 15 and 25. Since 1975, fair-skinned northern Europeans have also seen huge increases in cancer diagnosis due to climactic conditions, coupled with more holidaying in warmer climates such as the Mediterranean.

Research funding enabled experimental fashion, textiles and computer prototyping to take place, travel to collaborators overseas and ‘beach testing’ of the prototypes in Brighton this summer.

The tests took account of the broad range of ages and occupations of Brighton and Hove’s population, from students, to retired residents, with the potential of a wide range of intergenerational sun protection markets in mind.
Short titleBarrier solutions
Effective start/end date12/03/1212/02/13


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