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28 July 2017

SKHINCAPS Project Combines Clothing with Nanotechnology

Clothing is continually getting ever-more complex; no longer do our garments serve as a simple covering or provider of warmth, as the rise of nanotechnology and smart materials is now allowing researchers to explore no end of potential applications. One such research effort is the ongoing EU-funded SKHINCAPS project, which aims to utilise nano-capsules loaded with essential oils and other active ingredients for a variety of purposes ranging from more effective thermal clothing to garments which actively fight bacterial infections of the skin, such as dermatitis/eczema.

The project began as an effort to counteract the rise of underlying sensitive skin conditions which can lead to the aforementioned infections, all while cutting back on the environmentally harmful waste and negative side effects brought about by current treatment methods.

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

The research team aim to achieve this by loading concentrated plant oil into microscopic capsules hundreds of times smaller than the width of a human hair. The nano-capsules are pre-programmed to only release their payload when in contact with the bacteria responsible for skin infections, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the treatment by ensuring that the process begins as soon as the bacteria is known to be present. The capsules are secured to the clothing via covalent bonding, the strongest chemical bond found in nature, in order to make sure they will be able to withstand repeated washes.

Essential oils are not the only potential filler for these nano-capsules however, as the team are also experimenting with the use of paraffin in order to create clothing which can actively warm or cool your body in response to changing temperatures. This effect is possible due to the melting and crystallisation points of the waxy solid, which are similar to the temperature of human skin and allow the treated garment to keep the wearer cool by absorbing energy as the paraffin melts, or warm them up by releasing energy when it crystallises again.

This development could allow for the creation of high effective thermal clothing which could provide substantial assistance to those individuals who are less able to regulate their body temperature, such as children and the elderly. Such garments could also be highly useful to sportspeople, for whom maintaining a safe and comfortable temperature is of paramount importance to their performance.

Sam Bonson

Sam is an aspiring novelist with a passion for fantasy and crime thrillers. He is currently working as a content writer, journalist & editor in an attempt to expand his horizons.