Wristbands—from fitness trackers and sleep gadgets to colorful rubber bracelets linked with a specific cause—are everywhere. High-tech versions like Jawbone’s Up give you a glimpse of specific habits, such as how many hours of shut-eye you’ve logged, so you can make healthier choices, while the rubber versions help promote awareness of health conditions ranging from breast cancer to heart disease.But what if your wristband could do much more than that by detecting exposure to harmful chemicals in your everyday environment? Scientists at Oregon State University have done just that, taking wristbands to the next level to provide greater insight into your overall health.In a February 2014 study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, researchers had 22 study participants wear silicone wristbands, which are naturally porous, for 30 days, and then extracted and tested the compounds from the wristbands. The bands revealed that people absorb a surprisingly wide range of chemicals. The researchers extracted 49 compounds, including ones found in personal care products such as fragrances and cosmetics, along with exposure to caffeine, nicotine, pesticides and phthalates, which are found in everything from perfumes to nail polish and are linked to health issues such as allergies, asthma, and ADHD in infants and children.The bands in the study open the door to smart and simple ways to detect some of the harmful chemicals you’re exposed to in your day-to-day environment. “These bracelets offer a fascinating, new and novel approach to measuring our exposure to various chemicals,” says YouBeauty Wellness Advisor Beth Ricanati, M.D. “They are real-time, have a high degree of sensitivity, are relatively inexpensive and unique to each individual who wears one. Bracelets are easy to wear and therefore, offer a promising technique for capturing valuable data on our exposure to various chemicals, as illustrated in this study.”Study author Kim Anderson, Ph.D., a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University, says, “We expect that we will now be able to start to get a better understanding of the global view of the chemical exposures (chemical mixtures) and its variation over space and time. There is still a disparity in our current knowledge about environmental exposures as compared with genes and disease. Although the risks of developing diseases are attributed to both genetic and environmental factors, some estimate that 70 to 90 percent of disease risks are probably due to differences in environments. Our wristband technology will allow us to detect over 1,200 chemicals and we expect to expand that to 1,500 by summer 2014.”
Wearing these bands and learning more about one’s exposure to harmful chemicals may also inspire people to make healthier choices, such as eating more organic produce to cut down on pesticide exposure. “Just as wearing a Fitbit, for example, makes one more aware of getting exercise,” notes Dr. Ricanati, “wearing one of these bracelets that you know is monitoring various chemicals may likely influence your choices.”Anderson agrees: “I think once people know what some of their exposures are, they can decide if they want to change or alter their lives or communities.”The wristbands aren’t available yet—Anderson and her colleagues are developing a program to make them available to the public. In the meantime, Oregon State University is recruiting citizen scientists to join a network involved in air and water exposure monitoring. If you’d like to participate and find out more about chemical exposure in your own community, you can click here to join.