Clothes intertwined with nanotech will treat eczema
Tiny capsules embedded in the clothes we wear could soon be used to counteract the rise of sensitive skin conditions.
‘As people are getting older, they have more sensitive skin, so there is a need to develop new products for skin treatment,’ said Dr Carla Silva, chief technology officer at the Centre for Nanotechnology and Smart Materials (CENTI) in Portugal.
This increased sensitivity can lead to painful bacterial infections such as dermatitis, otherwise known as eczema. Current treatments use silver-based or synthetic antibacterial elements, but these can create environmentally harmful waste and may have negative side effects.
To combat these bacterial infections in an eco-friendly way the EU-funded SKHINCAPS project is combining concentrated plant oil with nanotechnology.
Their solution puts these so-called essential oils into tiny capsules that are hundreds of times smaller than the width of a human hair. Each one is programmed to release its payload only in the presence of the bacteria that cause the skin infections.
This means that each capsule is in direct contact with the affected skin as soon as an infection occurs, increasing the effectiveness of the treatment.
According to Dr Silva, who is also project coordinator of SKHINCAPS, the nano-capsules are attached to the clothing material using covalent bonding, the strongest chemical bond found in nature. This ensures the capsules survive the washing machine and that they are invisible to whoever is wearing them.
This nanotechnology has a lifespan equal to that of the garment, though the active ingredients contained in the nano-capsules will run out earlier depending on the extent of the skin infection, and thereby on how much of the treatment is released when the clothing is worn.
The nano-capsules will prove invaluable for chronic eczema sufferers and those with high levels of stress, as well as the elderly and diabetics, who are particularly vulnerable to developing such infections.
And it’s not just essential oils that could be held in the capsules.
The project is also demonstrating the use of nano-capsules loaded with paraffin, a waxy solid with the ability to absorb and release energy, in thermal clothing. The melting or crystallisation point of paraffin is around the temperature of human skin, meaning that the capsules can keep users cool by absorbing energy as the paraffin melts, or warm them up by releasing energy when it crystallises again.
This could not only improve the day-to-day comfort of those less able to control their body temperatures, such as young children, but also help sportspeople to control their temperature better while exercising.
SKHINCAPS is also adding nano-capsules loaded with vitamins and antioxidants to create anti-ageing cosmetics. The shell of this type of nano-capsule will protect their contents from decay due to sunlight exposure or change in temperature, releasing the anti-ageing ingredients only when they come into contact with skin at the right temperature and pH, maximising their effectiveness.