Working with a group that included Massachusetts General Hospital, Olivo Labs and Living Proof, researchers from MIT have developed a silicone-based polymer that provides a coating for the skin that is essentially unnoticeable and tighten skin as well as make wrinkles disappear.
Additional benefits of the “second skin”
In addition to essentially providing a face lift in a tube, the researchers believe that one day they could develop it to deliver drugs that could treat dermatitis as well as eczema. Additionally, the researchers see the potential to adapt it to provide a shield from ultraviolet light from the sun.
“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. Those three things together could really make it ideal for use in humans,” says Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering.
The findings were recently published in the May 9 online edition of the journal Nature Materials. Robert Langer, also a Professor at MIT was the paper’s senior author and the lead author is Betty Yu who earned her master’s and doctorate at MIT.
As I’m sure you’ve noticed with your own skin, the older you get the less firm and elastic you skin is, something that is made considerably worse by exposure to the sun over time. This is what led the team to begin developing this “second skin” about ten years ago with the aim of producing an imperceptible coating for to bring the skin of your youth back.
“We started thinking about how we might be able to control the properties of skin by coating it with polymers that would impart beneficial effects,” Anderson says. “We also wanted it to be invisible and comfortable.”
Going forward the group began producing substances with an alternating chain or both silicon and oxygen atoms known as siloxane. The group made over a hundred of these substances and then began testing them to see which most resembled human skin.
“It has to have the right optical properties, otherwise it won’t look good, and it has to have the right mechanical properties, otherwise it won’t have the right strength and it won’t perform correctly,” Langer says.
Elasticity is the key to the “second skin”
While natural skin can be stretched by about 180%, a number of the compounds that the group developed enjoyed the ability to be stretched by 250% then return unscathed.
“Creating a material that behaves like skin is very difficult,” says Barbara Gilchrest, a dermatologist at MGH and one of the paper’s many authors. “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.”
What the researchers ultimately developed was a two-step process to use their polymers. The first step, the researchers found, was to apply polysiloxane to the skin after which a platinum catalyst is applied. Both stages of the treatment involve applying creams to the skin and it really is impressive in its invisibility.
In human testing, the team enjoyed a great deal of success making bags under the eyes disappear that used compression to tighten the skin for about 24 hours. The researchers also found that XPL treated skin showed less water loss than untreated skin and even outperformed expensive moisturizers. Somewhat surprisingly, none of the humans involved in the study had any side effects or marked irritation.