Scientists Just Invented a Silicon “Second Skin” That Makes You Look Younger

Goodbye, bags under the eyes. Hello, future.

A team of chemical engineers and medical researchers led by Robert Langer at MIT just developed a wearable second skin. It’s a breathable, silicon-based film that’s effectively invisible to the human eye. Called XPL (for crosslinked polymer layer) the film is durable and elastic yet fits taut to the skin, with a pressure that reduces the appearance of wrinkles when applied. The invention is outlined toady in the journal Nature Materials, in a paper titled “An elastic second skin”.

A freshly applied layer of XPL is only about half as thick as a crisp new dollar bill.

XPL is applied onto the skin in two steps. First, a material called polysiloxane—think of it like a see-through silicone plastic—is carefully coated onto the skin in a exceedingly thin layer. That layer is then cured by a second material, called a platinum catalyst, which pulls the polysiloxane tight by ordering its molecules into a rigid grid. Measuring only 70 micrometers at its thickest, a freshly applied layer of XPL is only about half as thick as a crisp new dollar bill.

You can peel away XPL harmlessly at any time… although doing so looks eerily like peeling away skin a day after a bad sunburn. But you wouldn’t need to worry about the second skin ripping while you’re wearing it, as XPL tears at just below the same pressures and forces that would otherwise break human skin.

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In their experiments, the research team applied XPL to human subjects in a variety of different pilot studies. They found XPL had a marginal benefit in helping dry skin stay moisturized, and a fairly striking effect in hiding age-related skin changes, such as covering over wrinkles and bags under the eye. Using 3D photography that analyzed skin-level surface area, the researchers compared the under-eyes of subjects before applying XPL and then four hours after putting on the silicon second skin. With the XPL applied, the applicant’s skin was pulled almost twice as smooth. It’s pretty astonishing.

Rox Anderson, a medical researcher with the research team at Massachusetts General Hospital, forecasts a future in which his silicone skin has benefits beyond the cosmetic. For instance, he imagines layering ultraviolet light-blocking materials or dermatological creams into the skin for a healthier you. “For eczema or sun protection, as examples, this second skin platform [could] serve as a reservoir for trans-dermal drug delivery or SPF ingredients,” he says.

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