Researchers have developed what is in effect a “second skin” that is soft, flexible, and essentially invisible. Currently, the team are exploring the material's potential cosmetic applications as an effective way to remove wrinkles, treat under-eye bags, and give a general youthful appearance, though it’s not difficult to imagine other applications within the medical world. It could provide a new way to treat skin diseases, deliver drugs, or simply hydrate the skin. The study has been published in Nature Materials.
Created by scientists at MIT, the material is a silicone-based polymer that mimics the properties of healthy skin. The second skin contains all the mechanical and elastic properties of younger skin, while being breathable and waterproof at the same time. The imperceptible covering removes wrinkles and gives the appearance of turning back the clock, all without invasive surgery and in a means that can simply be peeled off at the end of the day.
The polymer, applied on the left eye in the photo, can also be used to hide under-eye bags. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)/YouTube
“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,” explains co-author Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering, in a statement. “Those three things together could really make it ideal for use in humans.”
The product works in two stages. First of all, users apply an invisible cream that contains a polymer made from siloxane, formed from a chain of alternating silicone and oxygen molecules. Then users have to apply a second white cream that is a platinum catalyst. This activates the polymer to form cross-links, meaning that the polymer becomes a thin, stretchy sheet, as well as diffuses light to give a more youthful appearance. A single application of both creams in the morning should last all day, even when exposed to general wear and tear, UV radiation, and even rain.
As skin ages, it loses its flexibility and elasticity, which is one of the reasons for why skin starts to look older. The new material, called XPL, aims to restore these properties. “Creating a material that behaves like skin is very difficult,” says Barbara Gilchrest, co-author of the paper. “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.”
The breakthrough from the researchers, which has been tested with success on volunteers, is so far limited to purely cosmetic uses. But the scientists are keen to apply it to a whole host of other uses, such as treating eczema, port wine stain birthmarks, and even by adding drugs and antibiotics to it as a delivery system.