'Second skin' banishes visible signs of ageing - for 24 hours
An invisible "second skin" has been developed that irons out wrinkles, eliminates eye bags, and can banish visible signs of ageing in an instant.
The new material, applied in a two-step process, both protects and tightens the skin, while allowing it to hold moisture and breathe.
It has the potential to make anyone on the wrong side of 40 look years younger - but currently, the effect only lasts 24 hours.
Scientists expect the silicon-based "biomimetic film" will initially be used for medical purposes, such as treating dermatitis and other skin conditions.
As well as appealing to the vain, the "skin" could in future be used to dress wounds, screen out harmful sun rays, or deliver pharmaceutical drugs.
Professor Robert Langer, who led the team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, said: "Developing a second skin that is invisible, comfortable and effective in holding in water and potentially other materials presents many different challenges.
"It has to have the right optical properties, otherwise it won't look good, and it has to have the right mechanical properties, otherwise it won't have the right strength and it won't perform correctly.
"We are extremely excited about the opportunities that are presented as a result of this work and look forward to further developing these materials to better treat patients who suffer from a variety of skin conditions."
The material, called XPL, was developed over five years of research during which more than 100 different polymers - large molecules made up of linked smaller units - were tested.
All contained a chemical structure known as siloxane, a chain of alternating atoms of silicon and oxygen.
The winning formula produced an elastic transparent material composed of cross-linked molecules which can be stretched invisibly over the skin.
XPL is applied as a cream or ointment in two layers. The first contains the key components and the second a platinum catalyst that causes the material to stiffen into a resilient coating which remains in place for 24 hours.
In elasticity tests, the material easily bounced back to its original state after being stretched by more than 250% - outperforming natural skin which can only be stretched by about 180%.
Other studies conducted with the help of volunteers showed how XPL tightened skin under the eyes to remove sagging bags, and improved the stretchability of skin on the forearms.
Skin covered by the film was also able to retain much more water than when treated with a top-of-the-range commercial moisturiser.
Dermatologist Professor Barbara Gilchrest, from Massachusetts General Hospital, another member of the team whose work is described in the journal Nature Materials, said: "Creating a material that behaves like skin is very difficult.
"Many people have tried to do this, and the materials that have been available up until this have not had the properties of being flexible, comfortable, non-irritating, and able to conform to the movement of the skin and return to its original shape."
None of the volunteers reported any irritation to the skin caused by wearing XPL.
The scientists wrote: "We report here that a new, two-step, flowable polysiloxane-based formulation, applied topically and cross-linked in situ to form an 'invisible' thin film on human skin, can provide a durable, skin-conforming elastic 'second skin'.
"This 'second skin' is wearable, moisturising, safe, well tolerated, and provides enhanced mechanical integrity to the underlying skin.
"The proof-of-concept human studies showed that XPL contraction reliably reshapes the skin surface, as well as mechanically flattening herniated fat pads that cause under-eye bagging."
The team included researchers from US hair product and skin care company Living Proof Inc.
A new company, Olivo Labs, has been spun out of Living Proof Inc to focus on developing the XPL technology.