Space & Innovation

Weird 'Second Skin' Erases Wrinkles, Wounds

A new cream combo turns into an invisible polymer that protects and enhances the skin, and combats diseases such as psoriasis.

<p style="margin-left: 20px;">Olivo Labs</p>

The skin is the body's largest organ, but replacing it has proven a complex and so far unsuccessful quest. Today, researchers say they have developed a "second skin" made of polymer that is strong, stretchy and adherent, just like the real thing.

"It's kind of like an invisible Spanx that you could put on skin," said Robert Langer, professor of biological engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a co-author on the study, which is published today in the journal Nature Materials.

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"We created a new material that is safe," Langer said. "We've put it on human beings. It's adherent and mechanically strong. Its easy to apply."

Langer, who also co-founded the firm Olivo Labs that is manufacturing the second skin, said he has been working on the project with his colleagues for the past eight years.

The silicon-based film forms from two different creams that are applied one after the other. The combination forms an invisible polymer layer that reinforces the skin beneath, while also providing a breathable barrier layer on top, according to Langer and Olivo.

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"The big challenge is finding something with all those properties (elastic, invisible, durable, moisturizing, adheres well)," Langer told DNews. "The key way to address that is through combinatorial chemistry. We created this library of hundreds of polymers and discovered one of them that worked really well."

The human skin changes over time as the result of diseases, aging and environmental conditions. That can lead to a loss in skin function and changes of appearance.

The eye on the left uses the new second skin; the eye on the right does not. | Olivo Labs, LLC

The new "second skin" will be used to protect and enhance the skin, as well as combat skin diseases such as psoriasis. Olivo and Langer's lab at MIT had developed a skin cream several years ago called Neotensil that made waves for its $500 price tag and endorsement by Jennifer Aniston.

"The new product will be used for both medical and cosmetics," Langer said in an e-mail to DNews. "The new embodiments translate into very different product attributes (faster application times, longer durability, spray forms, etc). The new version is also designed for medical applications."

Greg Henderson, professor of dermatology at UCLA School of Medicine, said he believes the new skin could be a big seller if it works.

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"My guess based on what the group had done, it will probably have a more a cosmetic niche," Henderson said. "There's not good eye creams out there, if they come out with a good eye cream there's a good market for that."

R. Vincent Falanga, professor of dermatology at Boston University School of Medicine said the new skin could work to cure more serious skin ailments as well.

"Because of the elasticity decrease the amount of contraction that takes place," Falanga said. "That opens up applications and possibilities for surgery as well as burn victims."