The Possible Uses of This ‘Second Skin’ Are Pretty Amazing

Engineering a second skin [VIDEO] Melanie Gonick/MIT

Skin has a big job. It shields our organs from bumps and scrapes, radiation, microorganisms, extreme temperatures, toxins, and nameless other environmental assaults. And because our skin is our most visible organ, we tend to equate the condition of a person's skin with their age and overall health.

It was inevitable, then, that scientists would invent XPL (short for cross-linked polymer layer), which is being heralded as “Spanx for your face” (with apologies to Jennifer Aniston's earlier claim on the phrase). This soft, elastic wearable film can be applied to the skin as a cream and then activated with a catalyst liquid that hardens, forming an invisible, mechanically strong barrier that adheres to your skin for up to 16 hours. XPL is invisible and could be used for smoothing out any places skin has lost elasticity, from saggy under-eye bags to cellulite. Check out the video from MIT above to see it in action. 


This just goes to show that if you give us a tunable polysiloxane-based material, 21st century Americans can't resist going full-on Kardashian with it. But the cosmetic applications of XPL are not why professor Robert Langer and his MIT research team developed it. Langer studies ways in which we can optimise drug delivery to different parts of the body, and one problem he has tried to solve with XPL is how to deliver a drug directly to one area of the skin and keep it there. This could help in treating skin conditions like eczema or severe sun damage. It could even protect the skin from UV damage without having to apply chemical sunscreens.

"Creating a material that behaves like skin is very difficult," says Barbara Gilchrest, a dermatologist and co-author of the paper, in a prepared statement. "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."

The researchers recently tested XPL on more than 300 people to see just how well it mimicked live human skin. After 24 hours of wearing the film, some participants held onto more moisture in their skin than the participants who wore Vaseline or even expensive moisturizers. Also, yes, it really does tighten up saggy aging skin, as the above video shows.

Now all we have to do is sit real tight until the FDA approves the stuff.