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Olivo Laboratories

Polymeric second skin erases signs of aging and provides a protective layer for skin conditions

by Bethany Halford
October 31, 2016 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 94, Issue 43

Three panels showing how Olivo’s XPL second skin is formed.
Credit: Yang H. Ku/C&EN/Shutterstock
Olivo’s XPL second skin is applied in two steps. The first component contains fumed silica and polysiloxane. The second contains a platinum catalyst that cross-links the first layer via hydrosilylation. The result is a barrier layer that tightens skin.

Olivo Laboratories

Launched: 2015

Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.

Focus: dermatology, cosmetics, and drug delivery

Technology: polymeric second skin for medical and cosmetic applications

Founders: Daniel G. Anderson, Rox Anderson, and Robert Langer

Funding or notable partners: Polaris Partners and Living Proof

With age comes wisdom and life experience, but there’s also that undesirable baggage one accumulates while racking up the years—specifically, those ugly bags of skin that bulge beneath the eyes.

Scientists at Olivo Laboratories have created a polymeric skin treatment that erases wrinkles and firms up unsightly under-eye bags in a matter of minutes. That same wrinkle-erasing treatment isn’t just for making us look better; it could make people with serious skin conditions feel better, too.

Olivo calls the product XPL second skin. XPL stands for cross-linked polymer layer, a descriptor of the product’s chemistry and a way of differentiating it from other so-called second skins on the market, explains the company’s interim CEO, Amir Nashat.

The idea, says Daniel G. Anderson, one of Olivo’s scientific founders and a chemical engineering professor at MIT, was first dreamed up about eight years ago at Living Proof, a maker of high-end hair care products that Olivo spun off from.

Most cosmetics that claim to smooth wrinkles or lessen the appearance of bags under the eyes don’t actually work, Anderson says. Those that do, he adds, take weeks of use before even minor changes are visible. The researchers’ goal was to create something that had an immediately visible effect as soon as it was applied to the face, Anderson explains.

The polymer is created directly on the skin by first applying a cream containing fumed silica and a polysiloxane. A second cream that contains platinum is then applied. The platinum acts as a catalyst for a hydrosilylation reaction that cross-links the polysiloxane into a three-dimensional silicone elastomer—the XPL second skin—that’s two to three times as thick as the skin’s topmost layer. It’s during the polymerization that the skin tightens up.

The material also contains nylon particles that scatter light to provide a natural appearance. It peels off for easy removal. Olivo reported the work in Nature Materials in May (DOI: 10.1038/nmat4635).

The second-skin concept may ring a bell with beauty mavens. In 2014, Living Proof introduced a two-step under-eye treatment called Neotensil. The product cost $500 for a seven-week supply and was only available by prescription. But the company discontinued it after less than a year. Anderson tells C&EN that Neotensil and XPL second skin are related, but not identical.

And while it’s possible that XPL second skin might one day be available at the cosmetics counter, Anderson says the company is currently focused on using it to treat skin conditions such as eczema and atopic dermatitis. Bandages for many such conditions can be primitive, he points out. Patients will often slather their skin in Vaseline and cover it with Saran wrap.

“The thinking was that if you could have a barrier that was therapeutic but also provided an aesthetic advantage over Saran wrap, it could really help a lot of people,” Anderson explains.

The move toward medical applications isn’t a big surprise considering that Robert Langer, an MIT chemical engineering professor and founder of many companies focused on medicine, and Rox Anderson, a dermatologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, are also among Olivo’s scientific founders.

“There hasn’t been a lot of innovation in skin care,” Nashat notes. “Hopefully, we’ll inspire other people.”

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