Researchers discover new skin barrier properties

Published: 30-Sep-2016

Scientists explain how properties of the skin change depending on the environment

Researchers at Lund University’s Faculty of Science in Sweden have discovered further details about the properties of the skin barrier and how it changes in different environments.

The findings were the result of experiments using a combination of x-rays and microscopy at the Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. Using this method the team was able to examine changes in the nanostructure of the barrier film.

“Our results are interesting in several ways; among other things, it increases our understanding of skin functions.” — Professor Emma Sparr, Department of Chemistry at Lund University

Skin barrier discovered

The skin becomes more permeable in humid environments and the team was able to see the mechanism behind this in the stratum corneum. The team saw that both lipids and proteins in the skin were fluidised in humid conditions.

The findings explain why dry air doesn’t cause people to dehydrate and could be used to create cosmetic products that penetrate the skin more effectively.

The skin’s barrier regulates itself according to the environment it is in and adapts based on the properties of skin creams and other films applied.

Professor Emma Sparr, from the Department of Chemistry at Lund, led the study along with Dr Kevin Roger, now based at the University of Toulouse. She said: “Our results are interesting in several ways; among other things, it increases our understanding of skin functions.”

She added: “A layer a skin cream can serve as an additional barrier that can open or close due to changes in humidity. The cream can also be designed so as to release its active substance better or worse, depending on whether the air is dry or humid.”

Potential for cosmetics

Sparr told Cosmetics Business that the research could be used to help create a microclimate on the surface of the skin to regulate its barrier function. She said: "This might be useful if the formulation contains an active compound that should penetrate into the skin. If the formulation creates a microclimate that is humid, you open the skin to be more permeable, and compounds in the formulation can more easily penetrate."

The research could also lead to products with a switch-like mechanism. Sparr explained: "Skin care products generally contain self-assembled molecules, and in many of these mixtures, there are indeed also structural changes depending on the changes in humidity."

This could be used to create formulations that become more permeable in dry conditions and "close" in dryer conditions, such as on an aeroplane. Sparr added: "The formula could prevent evaporation in dry conditions but become less permeable in normal, more humid, conditions."

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