Unless you possess the magical healing powers of a Hollywood celebrity, your skin is going to lose elasticity and gain wrinkles as you grow older. And the effects are not just cosmetic, with the skin's ability to guard against extreme temperatures, radiation and toxins diminishing over time. A new invisible polymer coating from MIT may offer a way to apply to brakes, however, by stretching over existing skin to smooth out wrinkles, act as a protective barrier and even slowly deliver drugs to treat eczema and other conditions.
Described as a second skin, the polymer is applied in two stages. A chemical structure called siloxane, which is made up of alternating atoms of silicon and oxygen, is first spread out over the skin in a clear cream. A platinum catalyst is then applied, which transforms the siloxane into a cross-linked polymer layer (XPL).
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The resulting material is invisible and has very similar elastic properties to healthy, young human skin. In testing, the researchers applied the XPL to bags under a subject's eyes. They found that the material compressed and tightened the skin and remained in place for about 24 hours.
In another experiment, the researchers tested the hydrating properties of their second skin. They found that two hours after application, the XPL had retained much more water than skin treated with a commercial moisturizer. Skin treated with petroleum jelly had similar water-retention properties to the XPL for the first two hours, but after 24 hours, the XPL-treated skin had held much more water.
No study participant experienced irritation from the material, which was developed in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital, biomaterial firm Olivo Laboratories and haircare company Living Proof. Olivo Laboratories is now working to equip the material with the ability to release drugs, which could be used to treat skin conditions such as eczema. The researchers say it could also be modified to offer long-lasting ultraviolet protection.
"It's an invisible layer that can provide a barrier, provide cosmetic improvement, and potentially deliver a drug locally to the area that's being treated," says Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT's Department of Chemical Engineering. "Those three things together could really make it ideal for use in humans."
The research was published in the journal Nature Materials, and you can hear from the scientists in the video below.
Video: Melanie Gonick/MIT