Effects of UV Rays on the Mechanics of Skin

Researchers of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering in Stanford are using models developed in mechanical labs, for determining the effects of ultraviolet radiation in changing the protective functionality of the human skin.

Dr. Reinhold Dauskardt belonging to Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford has been researching on skin for many years.

Reinhold and his team of researchers including Kemal Levi, a postdoctoral researcher and Krysta Biniek, a PhD student, focused on stratum corneum, the outermost skin layer.

This layer is responsible for protecting the deeper skin layers, from getting infected or drying out and more importantly, it is the first line of defense against the harmful UV radiation. Their research was published inProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Effects of UV Rays

Innovative Methods

It is ironic that the methodologies employed in the discoveries related to skin, emanated in photovoltaic field. US Department of Energy provided support for Reinholds research on the effects of most harsh environments and prolonged exposure to UV materials, particularly, the materials used in solar panels. In the research, human tissue samples were subjected to UVB doses.

UVB rays are a range of ultraviolet light, which are mostly absorbed by the outermost layer, epidermis and are not penetrated to deeper layers. Then these samples were tested for mechanical limits, by applying different types of stress upon them, until they pulled apart.

This research enables us to understand, why and how we can experience sensations like stiffness, chapping or dryness on our skin after using a harsh soap, sitting under AC or by a room heater. Such methods have been employed for the very first time to study the skin.

Outcome of Testing

These severe stress testing studies revealed an appalling fact that the skin’s mechanical barrier functionality takes a dramatic toll, due to sun exposure. Reinhold said that exposure to UV rays not only makes the stratum corneum weak, but also exerts more stress, which leads to failure of stratum corneum. It means that UV rays apply more pressure on the skin cells, driving them apart, by making them too weak to resist.

This is a double threat to public health because; global climatic changes will eventually affect changes in the interaction of people with sun. Mechanical testing also establishes the importance of using sunscreens to safeguard the integrity of skin. This research provides a strategy, which helps in finding the best possible protection. These methods help in modeling the effects of various products claiming sun protection, on the mechanics of skin.

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