March 8, 2017
You might have heard how scientists have relied on 3D printers to create everything from car parts to wheelchair ramps.
Now some of them are taking the technology to the next level by creating printed human skin.
I know it sounds kind of sketchy, but stay with me here.
Keep reading to learn about this advancement and why it might be more practical than you think.
1. It Could Help Burn Victims
Skin grafting is a complex procedure, but it’s often the only thing that makes severe burn victims look and function normally again. Researchers have developed ways to print skin using a technique that might replace traditional grafting techniques. They also say the technique could be suitable for creating internal organs.
A team of Spanish scientists has published research describing how they make skin one layer at a time using human plasma that contains skin cells. Notably, their technique has already been successfully on Spanish patients suffering from burns and other traumatic wounds. Eventually, it might make skin grafting more affordable and efficient.
While outlining their research, the team admitted some improvements need to be made before printing 3D skin more frequently and outside of labs. For example, it takes several weeks to produce enough of the printed material to cover a large burn.
Also, the process is currently done by hand and would be much faster if things were automated. However, the scientists generated about 40 inches of skin in 30 minutes during tests, which shows the technology’s promise.
2. It Could Reduce Animal Testing in the Cosmetics Industry
Another potential benefit to 3D-printed skin is it might allow cosmetics makers to test their products on that material rather than resorting to animal testing. The worth of the global cosmetics industry is projected to reach $267 billion this year.
Certain techniques are already practiced within that sector to ensure quality, such as depending on industrial sieves to filter out product impurities without using harsh chemicals. It makes sense that cosmetics companies are looking at ways to print 3D skin and cut down or reduce animal testing without sacrificing quality control.
Notably, a Shanghai-based company called JALA Group announced it has used 3D printers to create Asian skin. There are known, unique biological characteristics of Asian skin, so this accomplishment has captured headlines and made people wonder what else is possible.
Engineers at the JALA Group conducted nearly 100 experiments before they came up with suitable 3D skin, but say the results include all the typical layers. The company wants to come up with better cosmetics for Asian wearers, and thanks to this improvement they may be able to do so without using animals for testing.
3. It May Be Cheaper Than Buying Makeup All the Time
If you wear makeup, you understand the often-frustrating process of finding makeup that complements your skin type, has staying power through busy days, and doesn’t cause irritation. Then, if a company suddenly stops making a beloved product, the whole cycle starts over again and can become very expensive.
What if 3D printing could be used purely for appearance-based reasons, so people don’t have to keep buying makeup all the time?
There’s already a 3D-printing makeup pen that scans your cheek to determine skin tone, mixes the perfect shade of foundation and dispenses it. Eventually, it might be possible to print 3D skin that already has a person’s preferred makeup on it, so they can simply apply it.
Wearing 3D-printed skin doesn’t seem so farfetched after all. Because of this technology, the future will certainly be interesting.
Image by Anna Sastre