New Polymer Successfully Smooths Wrinkles

This “second skin” tightens wrinkles and could be used to cover wounds as well as deliver medications

Second Skin
Melanie Gonick/MIT

The holy grail of the beauty industry is a product can rejuvenate skin, making it look younger. Though the results so far have been less than stellar, a group of researchers from MIT recently announced that they’ve flipped the script. Instead of rejuvenating old skin, they announced the development of a polymer that creates an invisible layer that tightens and smooths skin from the outside, at least temporarily.

Daniel Anderson, professor of chemical engineering and health sciences at MIT explains in a press release that his team began looking into the idea of a “second skin” a decade ago. “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,” he says. “We also wanted it to be invisible and comfortable.”

The group, which includes researchers from MIT, Harvard, and the science-based beauty care company Living Proof, began by compiling a library of 100 polymers containing a compound called siloxane, to find the ones that best mimicked the strength, elasticity and look of healthy skin, with an emphasis on appearance.

“It has to have the right optical properties, otherwise it won’t look good,” says Robert Langer, a senior author of the study and researcher at MIT. “And it has to have the right mechanical properties, otherwise it won’t have the right strength and it won’t perform correctly.”

The formula they settled on, described in a study in Nature Materials, is made from chemicals approved by the FDA and applied in a two-stage process. First, a liquid polymer is applied then a second lotion firms up the layer.

The second skin can be worn for a full day or longer, Anderson tells Ian Sample at The Guardian. Even more important: “You can’t tell you’re wearing it,” he says.

In tests on 170 subjects, the researchers found that the second skin can be stretched 250 percent as opposed to natural skin which has 180 percent elasticity. It was able to reduce wrinkles under the eyes and caused no irritation or allergic reactions in any of the test subjects.

But wrinkle-relief is only one application. In their tests the second skin also outperformed silicone gel sheets and polyurethane film as a wound dressing. The scientists think the gel could be used as UV skin protection as well as a medication delivery system, especially for conditions like eczema and psoriasis.

The treatment for these diseases is often short-acting heavy moisturizers and creams, Barbara Gilchrist a dermatology professor at Harvard and part of the study team explains to Gina Kolata at The New York Times. “[Patients] end up with greasy goo all over the sheets, and they wake up in the middle of the night, terribly uncomfortable," she says. "We need something that was easier to use and didn’t make a mess and stays. Which is what this stuff does.”

“I think it is brilliant,” Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia, who was not involved in the research tells Kolata. “What they have done is design a clever biomaterial that recapitulates the properties of young and healthy skin. They can use it as sort of a Band-Aid over old and aging skin and get very significant results.”

The researchers and Living Proof have spun off another company, Olivo Laboratories, that will continue the research the cosmetic and medical potential of this technology.

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