Scientists engineer 'second skin' that corrects wrinkles

Depleted elasticity of the skin and overexposure to harmful ultraviolet rays causes wrinkles, but scientists say a new lab-created “second skin” could help correct this damage.

Researchers at MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Olivo Labs and Jennifer Aniston’s beauty company Living Proof reported in a recently released research paper that the material has the potential to tighten, smooth and protect skin from harmful UV rays. With more development, their invention also could act as a delivery mechanism for medication, and help treat skin ailments like eczema and other types of dermatitis.

“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,” study author Daniel Anderson, an associate professor in MIT’s Department of Chemical Engineering and a member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), said in a news release.

In their paper, published Monday in the journal Nature Materials, researchers demonstrated that the silicone-based polymer could be applied as a thin coating that matches the elastic and mechanical properties of young, healthy skin. When tested on humans, the material helped reshape under-eye bags and enhanced skin hydration.

According to the release, scientists’ invention has been about 10 years in the making. Their research included creating a library of more than 100 possible polymers that contained the chemical structure siloxane, a chain of alternating atoms of silicon and oxygen. Those polymers were organized into a network known as cross-linked polymer layer (XPL). Study authors tested the materials to identify one that would mimic the skin’s mechanical and optical properties.

“Creating a material that behaves like skin is very difficult,” study author Barbara Gilchrest, a dermatologist at MGH, said in the release. “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.”

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The XPL researchers created easily returned to its original state after being stretched more than 250 percent. According to the release, natural skin can be stretched about 180 percent. Its elasticity outperformed two other wound dressings currently used on skin: silicone gel sheets and polyurethane films.

Scientists conducted multiple studies to test the XPL’s safety and effectiveness. In one study, they found the material helped tighten under-eye bags for 24 hours, and in another, they found the material helped prevent water loss from skin better than high-end commercial moisturizer 24 hours after application. None of the study participants reported irritation from wearing the XPL.

“I think it has great potential for both cosmetic and noncosmetic applications, especially if you could incorporate antimicrobial agents or medications,” Thahn Nga Tran, a dermatologist and instructor at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the research, said in the release.