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Soap Researchers Are Working on How to Make Skin ‘Waterproof’

Researchers may be closer to figuring out how to make skin “waterproof.”

According to research published in the journal Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces, an ingredient commonly found in cosmetic cleaners — anionic surfactants known as sodium lauryl sulfate — has the ability to control the outer layer of the skin, which serves as a protective barrier between underlying tissue and the environment. The “wet-ability” of this tissue layer can influence the spread of chemicals, as well as the way the skin responds to cosmetic products. So in essence, now that scientists have figured out what exactly is needed to alter skin’s “wet-ability,” they can play around with it and see exactly what needs to be done to make skin “waterproof.”

“It’s quite neat, actually. What it seems to suggest is as you change the pH of the solution, we can actually flip these little molecules upside down,” study author Guy German, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Binghamton University, State University of New York, said in a press release.

“The simple story that is new is that sodium lauryl sulfate is the molecule they focused on — that’s in soap,” Delphine Lee, MD, PhD, dermatologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA, explains to Yahoo Beauty.

She says the most basic way to understand the science behind this discovery is to think about the blending of oil and water. “Imagine you’re trying to wash oil off of a shirt — you can’t get the oil off with water because oil and water don’t mix,” explains Lee. And the oil can be seen as a hydrophobic because it’s going to repel the water.

So some of the molecules in sodium lauryl sulfate will change the skin’s pH value. “If you make the pH lower, then it’s acidic,” continues Lee. “Then it will actually make your skin — on the surface, on a microscopic level — be hydrophobic, like the oil. So it will almost make you waterproof.”

Lee credits this research as “an interesting observation” and believes it may encourage chemists to, “pay more attention to the pH when they’re developing technologies and inventions of their topical treatments or cosmetics.”

The study author is hopeful this latest research will lead to the improvement of “transdermal drug delivery, alter bacterial growth behavior on skin, or improve adhesion of biointegrated electronics and sensor systems.” Did you catch all that?

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