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Understanding skin damage could lead to better treatments

Deformations of kerachinocytes by mechanical rubbing.
Deformations of kerachinocytes by mechanical friction. Credit: Tohoku University.

Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan have discovered that damage to skin caused by friction from face masks and coverings could potentially provide a route for transdermal virus infection.

The authors of a study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics (Jul 31, 2020; 587:119708) believe a better understanding of skin damage could help develop more effective treatments that could be applied through the skin. Further, better knowledge of skin damage could lead to improved understanding of how to prevent viruses and bacteria from gaining access to the body through damaged skin.

In an effort to develop a more in-depth understanding of the mechanics of skin damage caused by friction, the researchers measured the mechanical effects of friction on pig skin using a gear rotated against skin samples at known rates and pressures.

The researchers then measured the damage caused by exposing the skin samples to a fluorescent dye. The more damaged the skin, the more the fluorescent dye was able to permeate it.

Lead author Dr. Kenji Kikuchi and his team of investigators found that the mechanical friction caused keratinocytes to shrink and wrinkle in the direction of the rubbing. Gaps also formed between the keratinocytes, degrading the skin’s barrier function. The study’s authors then developed a mathematical formula to describe the permeability of rubbed skin, which can be estimated based on the amount of strain applied.

“We believe our findings could improve transdermal drug delivery and we plan to investigate the development of novel topical drugs that can be applied to the skin by rubbing,” said Dr. Kikuchi said in a press release. Dr. Kikuchi is a doctor of engineering in the department of fine mechanics, graduate school of engineering at Tohoku University.

Dr. Kikuchi suggested the findings of this research could apply to the current Covid-19 pandemic if face masks were found by further research to cause skin damage, potentially allowing another avenue for Covid-19 infection.

The researchers note that they did not specifically investigate skin damage caused by mask-wearing during Covid-19 and Dr. Kikuchi encourages people to continue wearing face coverings that fit over the nose and mouth.

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