Scientists create 'super helical polymer gel' with cosmetic potential

By Michelle Yeomans

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Protein

When warmed, a new synthetic polymer forms a network, seen here under an atomic force microscope.
When warmed, a new synthetic polymer forms a network, seen here under an atomic force microscope.
Scientists at Radboud University Nijmegen are looking into ways a gel they have developed that claims to retain moisture a hundred times better than other gel, can be applied to cosmetic applications.

According to the Nijmegen researchers, the gel made from helical polymers features molecules that twist together to form a ‘nano rope’ and is unusual in that a solution of the material is liquid when cold and turns into a gel when warmed – the opposite of what happens to gelatine.

Professor Rowan told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.com that while there have been tentative discussions with top cosmetic companies, there are no products yet but that the gel has the potential to be a collagen replacement and is ideal for skin applications since it is mainly composed of water and pleasant on the skin.

A fragrance company has also been interested in that the gel can form a very thin coating on the skin. It also mimics the mechanics and properties of natural collagen and human gels almost perfectly, so there is great potential there​” he tells this publication.

This innovative development could be extremely beneficial to the industry as gels are used in a wide variety of cosmetics including skin, hair, nail, and make-up products.

Inspired by nature

In developing this material, professor Alan Rowan and Dr. Paul Kouwer are said to have been inspired by the proteins that provide the cells in our bodies with their strength, as each cell contains thousands of very thin but strong threads.

“We were able to mimic the winding structure of these proteins using a synthetic polymer - polyisocyanide​. We’ve made a copy that is almost exactly the same as the natural original, which is unprecedented​,” explains Kouwer.

"Not only is the structure of our material strikingly similar to the cell proteins, but the strength and sensitivity of the two materials are practically identical, even if you suddenly pull them hard​," he adds.

'Super gel'

It is this structure the experts say that provides the polymer with its unusual gel response, "less than one gram of the solid substance needs to be added to a bucket of water to produce a strong gel​." It therefore has a gel response, the professors say, is one hundred times better than commonly-used super gels.

When we first produced the material in the laboratory two years ago we knew that it was a very special substance, but did not yet understand why. The follow-up research has produced some fantastic results,”​ says Rowan.

Scientific journal 'Nature' has published a paper showing how the ‘super gel’ works and its properties today. To get an indepth look at this research, please see here​.

Related topics: Formulation & Science, Skin Care

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