The idea sounds like fantasy: an invisible film that can be painted on your skin and give it the elasticity of youth. Bags under the eyes vanish in seconds. Wrinkles disappear.
Scientists at Harvard and MIT have discovered that it is not fantasy at all. Reporting on Monday in the journal Nature Materials on pilot studies with 170 subjects, the researchers say a “second skin” composed of commonly used chemicals deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration can accomplish that — and in small studies of it, so far no one has reported irritation or allergic reactions.
Undereye bags are just the start. You can soak the film with sunscreen and protect yourself without worrying about sweat or water washing it away, researchers said. They expect it can be used to treat eczema, psoriasis and other skin conditions by covering dry itchy patches with a film that moistures and soothes.
The chemicals are siloxanes — their basic form is one atom of oxygen linked to two atoms of silicon — which form polymers, long chains of repeating units. The researchers made a large collection of them by modifying molecular features such as the chain length to get the ones with the properties they wanted.
The research was funded by a small, privately owned biotechnology company in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Living Proof, and the product is being developed by another small, privately owned Cambridge company, Olivo Laboratories, which owns the patents. All of the authors on the new paper have an equity interest in Living Proof and so, indirectly, in Olivo.
The report published on Monday describes pilot studies, the first test of the product. The researchers say that they are not sure yet when they will have enough data to submit to the FDA for marketing approval — they will know more later this year.
“I think it is brilliant,” said Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia, who was not involved in the research. “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 “skin” can last for more than a day.