This super-stretchy material may be the future of skin treatments

Elastic second skin

Ads touting those "revolutionary" creams that guarantee healthier, younger-looking, and more elastic skin are as common as they are misleading, but scientists may have found a material that could actually be a balm to irritated and aged skin.

A group of researchers across MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, Living Proof, and Olivo Labs have developed a flexible material that is highly stretchable, able to retain moisture, and is practically invisible when applied to the body in the form of a ointment.

The cross-linked polymer, or XPL, is two-fold: The user first applies a gel or cream comprised of a special silicon/oxygen combination on the affected area. Once spread, the concoction is "set" by adding a platinum catalyst that strengthens the polymer, allowing it to remain resilient for up to 24 hours.

Once set, the XPL can stretch over 250% its surface area, doesn't rub off with friction, and keeps the skin underneath hydrated and protected, which in turn opens up a myriad of potential uses for the "second skin"-like material, both medical and cosmetic.

One possible application for the XPL is to help prevent skin from aging and protect it from damage. The polymer keeps moisture locked in a person's epidermis better than a topical moisturizer, and doesn't come off with water or sweat over time like most sunscreens.

Researchers believe the polymer could be combined with medication or other beneficial compounds to protect skin from sunburn, germs, or scratches. It could also potentially help treat skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema.

Another potential use is as a beauty product. In a test, the polymer was able to stretch over skin to reduce wrinkles, even when pinched and prodded. The XPL's moisture-retention abilities and invisible appearance could help improve the look of older skin, which is known to lose its elasticity over time.

This is thinking a little ahead of ourselves, but we also see the potential of the XPL in the world of biometrics. Imagine applying sensors to your skin without feeling like they're there, or having a super-thin blood sugar tracker that helps diabetics keep glucose levels in check without having to carry around bulky equipment.

Right now, the XPL is still on the expensive side to produce, so don't expect to slather it all over to look forever-young just yet.

However, in good time, we could be looking at a potential treatment for burns, skin conditions, and aging that is both practical and a million times less pandering than the current "fountain of youth"-style solutions you see peddled in makeup ads.

Parker Wilhelm
Parker Wilhelm is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He likes to tinker in Photoshop and talk people's ears off about Persona 4.