Nanotech clothing to treat eczema
© Valeria Boltneva

Nanotech clothing to treat eczema

Small capsules embedded in clothing could soon be used to counteract the rise of sensitive skin conditions.

Dr Carla Silva, chief technology officer at the Centre for Nanotechnology and Smart Materials (CENTI) in Portugal, said: “As people are getting older, they have more sensitive skin, so there is a need to develop new products for skin treatment.”

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 fight these bacterial infections in an eco-friendly way the EU-funded SKHINCAPS project is combining concentrated plant oil with nanotechnology.

The 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 solution 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 Silva, who is also project co-ordinator 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 the wearer.

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 thus on how much of the treatment is released when the clothing is worn.

The nano-capsules could 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.