Biox - getting under the skin of the cosmetics industry
Opto-thermal transient emission radiometry (OTTER) is a relatively recent infrared remote sensing technology. It is a form of non-destructive testing (NDT) technology and can be used for a range of applications. LSBU's Photo-physics Research Group carried out research in collaboration with industrial partners including Unilever, L'Oreal and GSK to develop OTTER to measure skin water content, skin pigment profiles and trans-dermal drug delivery measurements.
Alongside OTTER readings, Transepidermal water loss (TEWL) measurements were often taken as they provide an important index for skin barrier function, which is related to skin water content. These are valuable in a number of different contexts and industries. They help the cosmetics industry test the performance of new products and the medical world assess the reaction of skin to different stimuli.
However, existing open-chamber based TEWL instruments were difficult to use. Measurement results were not precise, unreliable and subject to external influences such as temperature, humidity and air movement.
LSBU researchers developed a new condenser-based closed-chamber technology for taking TEWL measurements. With one end closed with a cold plate frozen to below zero, the other is placed against the surface to be measured. Water vapour enters the chamber and diffuses towards the cold plate, where it is frozen onto the condensing surface. By measuring the gradient of the vapour's diffusion the flux density can be determined – giving a much more accurate and reliable TEWL reading.
LSBU was granted a US patent for the technology in 2000, and promptly formed Biox as a spinout company to bring the new product – christened Aquaflux – to market. Eight years of further research and development were needed before the product was ready for commercial sale. It was this continuing relationship between LSBU and Biox that proved to be absolutely crucial to improving Aquaflux even further.
New data analysis techniques
In 2002, new data analysis techniques were developed which enabled the Aquaflux to preform not only TEWL measurements but also skin surface water loss (SSWL) measurements. New mathematical models and algorithms, hardware adaptors for material desorption and membrane permeability measurements have also been developed, along with a technique for measuring water loss through fingernails and in-vitro Franz cell membrane integrity testing.
In 2003, collaborative research resulted in a new sensor technology being developed, which made the readings even more accurate and less susceptible to damage and contamination. In 2007, a new methodology for studying skin water holding capabilities and skin water diffusion coefficients was devised by combining OTTER measurements and TEWL measurements.
Biox has flourished thanks to its close relationship with LSBU. Since 2008 it has created three new full-time technical jobs and delivered consultancy and training to over 50 organisations on the science and performance behind Aquaflux. It also provides four graduate internship opportunities a year to students from the UK, France and Spain.
The performance of Aquaflux since it was launched in 2008 has been remarkable. Almost 150 Aquaflux instruments have been sold, creating revenues of £1.37 million and profits of £190,000. It has been exported into 15 countries, and a sales and support agency network has been established, while the industry itself has been quick to recognise the contribution Aquaflux has made to a variety of fields.
Best on the market
Procter & Gamble has 12 Aquaflux machines and consider it to be the best on the market. They're used to support the testing and development of household brands in areas such as baby care, laundry and beauty products. The solid scientific principles behind Aquaflux have, in the words of a senior technologist, made it the standard reference machine used in Proctor & Gamble and in European multi-centre trials.
A visiting professor at the School pf Pharmacy, UCL, with over 20 years of skin-related research experience has described Aquaflux as the "gold standard" for TEWL. The UK's Advertising Standards Authority requires manufacturers to provide evidence to support their product claims, and Aquaflux, in the words of the professor, gives them confidence in the robustness of those claims.
The product has also been key to a number of important medical discoveries – for example, it was selected for a special study into food allergies where it was found to be a highly accurate instrument capable of identifying water loss in skin as an indicator of food allergies. It has also been used to discover that the skin barrier properties of three-month-old babies are similar to those of adults, which will benefit the understanding and potential treatment of skin allergies in infants.
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