New synthetic skin could make you look younger

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A polymer that smooths wrinkles from skin may be used to deliver drugs to help treat skin conditions such as eczema.

Synthetic skin, with higher moisture-retention, flexibility and wearability than any product before it, could be the answer to ageing skin, researchers say.

The material begins as an ointment and dries invisible when spread on the body, bringing all the appearance and function of healthy, youthful human skin.

As well as the obvious cosmetic applications, researchers are aiming to use the product to help patients with a variety of skin conditions.

The silicone-based film, which dries to become a wearable polymer, is the result of five years’ research by an international team at Olivo Laboratories, at Cambridge University in the US.

“Developing a second skin that is invisible, comfortable and effective in holding in water and potentially other materials presents many different challenges, which we are now able to address,” Olivo Labs’ co-founder Robert Langer says.

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“We are extremely excited about the opportunities that are presented as a result of this work and look forward to further developing these materials to better treat patients who suffer from a variety of skin conditions.” 

The material could be applied locally to ageing areas of the skin, such as bags under the eyes, or to the entire body in cases of eczema or other skin conditions, or as a wound dressing, almost like covering the body in plastic wrap. 

Researchers also suggest the polymer could be loaded up with medications, which could then be absorbed through the skin.

The paper, published this week in Nature Materials, describes a series of tests on around 200 people in which the second skin displayed its quality.

When compared to two existing kinds of wound dressing, the material was found to be more flexible, elastic and thick, and less visible once applied to the human body. The findings also show the material keeps skin hydrated better than high-end commercial moisturisers. None of the test subjects exhibited skin irritation.

The second skin was developed to help patients with a variety of skin conditions such as dermatitis and eczema, but researchers say it could be adapted to form a long-term sun protection solution.

“This ‘skin conforming’ platform brings with it transport properties that have significant promise to treat underlying conditions,” explains Rox Anderson, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-founder at Olivo Labs.

“For eczema or sun protection as examples, this second skin platform can then serve as a reservoir for control- release transdermal drug delivery or SPF ingredients, a possibility we are currently pursuing in our lab.”

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