MIT’s New Cream Pushes the Limits of What Old Looks Like

A team of researchers has just found the holy grail of the cosmetic industry: a cream that delivers an instant facelift. The product, referred to as XPL which stands for ‘cross-linked polymer layer’ (we’re guessing the retail name is a work in progress), can be applied directly to the face and creates an extra layer of artificial skin that smooths out any wrinkles.

In tests for cosmetic use, researchers applied the product to older subjects’ loose under-eye skin with pretty impressive results. The sagging skin or “bag” under the eye was tightened and smoothed out, giving the lucky test subjects a noticeably more youthful appearance.

XPL is the result of a collaboration between MIT researchers and two private biotech companies, Living Proof and Olivio Laboratories.

Robert Langer, chemical engineer at MIT and one of the co-authors of the team’s research paper, explains that the cream is applied in two steps. First a clear polymer of siloxanes (a molecular chain of alternating silicone and oxygen atoms) is applied directly to the skin. Then a second product, a platinum catalyst, is applied. The catalyst causes the polymers in the first cream to connect and bind into a strong but stretchy film. It takes about three minutes for the creams to interact and reach their full strength. The end result is a clear and resilient film, 0.07mm thick that is water and rub resistant and can last comfortably on the skin for around 24 hours. In tests, the wearability of the product stood up to normal daily wear, including exercise, swimming and rain.

According to researchers the cream doesn’t just mask wrinkles, but actually mimics the properties of normal, youthful skin. And to prove it, scientists gently pinched their subjects’ under-eye skin after it had been treated with XPL to demonstrate the skin’s improved recoil ability compared to untreated skin. That part of the testing doesn’t look so pleasant.

Video: Melanie Gonick/MIT

Langer says, “What we’ve been able to do is create a cream basically that you can put on the skin and then when it’s on the skin it (essentially forms) an elastic second skin; it’s transparent – it’s essentially invisible – not messy at all and has good mechanical strength.”

All the ingredients in the product are FDA approved and researchers say that out of 170 subjects tested, not one person reported irritation or allergic reactions.

In even better news, XPL isn’t just for vanity’s sake. Apparently slight changes to the polymer cream and the platinum catalyst or the way the two are combined can create different composites that are suitable for various uses. “I think it’s fair to say this is a platform technology,” Langer says, “You could use it in various different areas.”

For example, when the two creams are combined to make a really firm bind, XPL might be appropriate for dressing wounds or to help keep topical pharmaceutical products or even sunscreen in place. On the other hand, a less permeable combination of the two creams is more appropriate for cosmetic uses, like temporarily tightening bags under the eye.

Right now researchers have prioritized adapting the technology for medical purposes. They believe the product could be a comfortable and resilient wound dressing and could help treat common skin irritations like eczema and psoriasis.

As for when the face-lift-in-a-tube version of XPL will appear on shelves, developers are waiting on marketing approval from the FDA… and perhaps still brainstorming a more catchy retail name.

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