Human skin is a complex, multifunctional composite biomaterial of extreme import to our everyday lives. As the largest and outermost organ of the human body, it serves a variety of protective and structural roles. For instance, the top layer of skin serves as a physical barrier against environmental damage and infection, while also providing our tactile impressions of the world around us. Both of these roles depend on the mechanical properties and states of this outer skin layer, called the stratum corneum. However, precisely and reliably measuring these properties, along with stress and strain states of the tissue, have been historically challenging.
The Dauskardt group has developed a series of novel thin-film measurement methodologies to directly characterize the biomechanical properties and behaviors of the stratum corneum. Using these techniques, we have assessed its response to a variety of environmental and physiological conditions, including UV exposure, cleaning treatments, and aging. A suite of spectroscopic techniques provides chemical, structural, and mobility data of the protein and lipid components. We have modeled the response of the tissue to change in moisture content, and used these data and models to predict drying effects and damage propagation in the skin.