Researchers Discover How Skin Properties Change Depending on the Environment

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Researchers at Lund University have discovered the mechanism behind environment-based changes in the human skin.  These findings can help explain why people don’t dehydrate in dry air and may also help cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry professionals create products that better penetrate the skin.

The thin outer layer of skin changes to allow more or less water to penetrate the surface based on the level of humidity in the air – this is why many of us experience dry skin in the winter time, for example. The Swedish scientists have found the underlying process that explains how skin adapts to the surrounding environment. On a molecular level, the skin regulates itself based on its environment, but also to properties of the second skin barrier films like skin creams.

According to the study’s lead researcher, Professor Emma Sparr, study results increase their understanding of skin functions. This could be beneficial with pharmaceutical preparations, where specific substances are needed to penetrate the skin. Skin cream can serve as an additional barrier, where the active substance can be released, depending on humidity.

There is another important discovery is that the skin functions can be changed to let in less molecules of a particular substance. This can be beneficial in preventing substances like air pollution, for example, to enter the skin, which is known to have harmful effects. Furthermore, companies who produce products that are released into the environment can be made aware of the findings to lessen penetration of these products to exposed skin.

To achieve their findings, the researchers used a series of experiments at the synchrotron radiation facilities and combined x-ray and microscopy to examine changes in the nanostructure inside the barrier film.

The findings were published in PNAS.

Roger, K., et al., “Controlling water evaporation through self-assembly,” PNAS,, last accessed September 28, 2016.