MIT-Second-Skin-1_0
May 10, 2016

Scientists have developed a skin-like film that can hide wrinkles

Forget facelifts: researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University have developed a new product that, when applied directly to the skin, can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and other blemishes, according to a recently-published study.

Writing in the Nature Materials, senior author Robert Langer, a professor at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, and his colleagues report that they had developed a new cream that temporarily smooth wrinkles and tighten skin. Furthermore, with additional work, the team believes that it could be used to treat conditions such as eczema and psoriasis.

The product is a silicone-based skin-like polymer, and as the study authors said in a statement, it is applied directly to the skin as a thin and essentially undetectable layer that mimics the elastic and mechanical properties of young, undamaged skin. The product has been proven to be able to reshape bags under the eyes, enhance skin hydration and even provide UV protection.

While the polymer is currently being developed as a cosmetic product, BBC News and the New York Times noted that it could also some day be used to deliver medicines, and that pilot studies involving 170 participants have to date resulted in no reports of significant allergic reactions.

“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,” Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering as well as a member of the Koch Institute, said in a statement. “Those three things together could really make it ideal for use in humans.”

Ointment is like ‘a Band-Aid over old and aging skin’

Langer, Anderson and their colleagues began working with polymers 10 years ago in search of a way to repair damage done to the skin by sun exposure, the aging process and other factors. They tested more than 100 different polymers, each of which contained siloxane, a chain of alternating silicon and oxygen atoms, to see which best mimicked the look and structure of actual skin.

Ultimately, they came up with a two-step process. First, a clear siloxane polymer is applied to the desired area. However, this polymer has a weak structure, so a second product is applied to link the oxygen and silicon chains to make it more or less permeable, based on whether or not it is used for under-eye bags or to hold medication in place against the skin.

A special solution can be used to dissolve the polymer, which normally lasts about 24 hours. The second product, described by the researchers as a catalyst, needs to be applied after the polymer, as it makes the material too stiff to spread otherwise. Both of the layers are applied to the skin as ointments or creams, and once the process is complete, they essentially become invisible.

“Creating a material that behaves like skin is very difficult,” Massachusetts General Hospital dermatologist Barbara Gilchrest, one of the co-authors of the new study, said in a statement. “Many people have tried to do this, and the materials that have been available up until this have not had the properties of being flexible, comfortable, nonirritating, and able to conform to the movement of the skin and return to its original shape.”

Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, a biomedical engineering professor at Columbia University who was not part of the study, called the research “brilliant,” telling the Times, “What they have done is design a clever biomaterial that recapitulates the properties of young and healthy skin” and can be used as “sort of a Band-Aid over old and aging skin.”

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Image credit: MIT