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Copper Nanoparticles in Dermatology

Episode 7: The Science of Metallic Nanoparticles in Textile Cosmeceuticals

Biofunctional textiles have been used to treat eczema with its bactericidal effects. Incorporation of metallic nanoparticles in textiles, such as a copper mask can treat the skin microbiome in various dermatological conditions. Zinc nanoparticles are anti-inflammatory, regulate sebum and have bactericidal properties. Textile cosmeceuticals are relevant for skin health in a post-COVID-19 world, addressing the skin micro-climate and microbiome.
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Masking Up: A Dermatologist’s Guide to Maskne available on Amazon Kindle

The science of metallic nanoparticles in the copper mask

Dr. TWL: Hi everyone! In this episode of Dermatologist Talks: Science of Beauty, we’re going to be chatting behind the nanoparticle impregnated biofunctional textiles under my biomaterials arm of Dr. TWL Dermaceuticals.

I have with me here, Chelsea, who is also suffering from maskne like many of us in this year 2020. Where we are having to wear the face mask for the purposes of pandemic control as a public health measure. Now Chelsea you’re 19 this year and you’ve suffered from breakouts in the past. How has face mask wearing changed your skin? Would you like to share with us a little about that?

Chelsea: Hi Dr Teo, yes I have had some breakouts in the past, but those were usually on my forehead. But after having to wear face masks, especially for longer periods of time,

I’ve definitely noticed more breakouts around my chin and just the lower part of my face in general. 

Dr. TWL: That’s very consistent with the phenomenon we now know as maskne. I describe it as being distinct from physiologic or hormonal acne patterns in my research letter in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. For maskne, we find that the pattern of involvement is centred around the O zone of the face. This is essentially is the area that is covered or occluded by a face mask.

Hormonal acne

What you experienced in the past, around the forehead and nose, that is likely the pattern of physiologic acne of adolescents. Adult females tend to have a pattern of acne around the jawline. This is what we term as the U zone of the face which we often associate with hormonal fluctuations. An underlying hormonal disorder, polycystic ovarian syndrome may be suspected if the individual also has irregular menstrual cycles and excess hair growth.

Today I want to share more about my area of research – which is in the science of metallic nanoparticles incorporated into textiles. These textiles have antioxidant, bactericidal effects that is of use in adjunct therapies for various skin disorders. 

Skin benefits of the copper mask

The copper mask and zinc mask from the biomaterials range are incorporated with metallic nanoparticles. We select these nanoparticles on the basis of their known bactericidal properties. There’s a difference between the terms that are broadly used by laypersons like antimicrobial. Antimicrobial means there is some benefit in resisting the growth of bacteria. But in medical terms, it’s quite specific. For example, we specify if it’s a bactericidal or bacteriostatic effect for a disinfectant.

Materials for the skin microbiome in diseases such as eczema, are silver and zinc metallic nanoparticles. They are incorporated into textiles to improve the skin flora, and are used as a part of evidence-based adjunct therapy. The reason is because changes in the skin microbiome are directly related to the development of many skin conditions.

Of course, what’s very relevant these days would be maskne. In my white paper on maskne, I discussed how the evolution of maskne is directly related to the occlusive effect of wearing a textile over your skin. Also, I discuss how biofunctional textiles such as those incorporated with the CUIONS nanoparticles in the copper mask, and other metallic ions can be of value in treating the skin microbiome without incurring antibiotic resistance. 

And I know that you have recently just launched the nanoparticle zinc mask and osmium blue copper mask, can you tell us more about that? 

Zincool metallic nanoparticles

Dr. TWL: The ZINCOOL mask is impregnated with zinc metallic nanoparticles. Zinc, is of use for the treatment of acne in terms of regulating sebum production, as well as its known anti-inflammatory effects. The key feature about maskne and its microenvironment is the increase in moisture, temperature, and humidity that forms a specific skin microclimate. This can increase the growth of microorganisms leading to skin disease, and can increase occurrence in heat related dermatitis. Some individuals have facial hyperhidrosis – excessive sweating predominantly over the face, which can be a source of social embarrassment. 

Cholinergic Urticaria, is a type of heat related rash. Miliaria, which we know commonly as heat rash. We chose white because of its ability to reflect heat. The key thing though, with white, is that it often is prone to staining. For women who wear foundation and lipstick, there is a concern when wearing a white mask. As it could stain the inside of the mask.

Self-cleaning metallic nanoparticles

This particular Zincool textile is engineered with what we call ‘whiter than white’ technology, which is what makes it a self-cleaning textile. Furthermore, it’s been proven to be actively bactericidal. Bactericidal means it kills bacteria on contact. As opposed to something that may just be antimicrobial. This means it’s probably bacteriostatic – slightly superior in terms of preventing the growth of bacteria. But the contact of the Zinc metallic nanoparticles on skin means that it kills the microorganisms on skin. It also of course, by virtue of the special coating on it, is resistant to permanent stains. When your makeup or foundation gets on it, it washes off easily with a simple, gentle detergent. Additionally, you can easily hand wash these masks with just soap and water. Over time, this will help to maintain the integrity of the mask, and it’s also more hygienic. 

Chelsea: The Osmium blue copper mask is your most recent release. I love the dark blue color, it’s perfect for the festive season too!

Where did you get your inspiration behind the unique blue-black color of the Osmium Blue copper mask?

The copper nanoparticle mask in Osmium Blue

The new Osmium blue mask is engineered from the same material as the original CUIONS nanoparticle copper mask, but in a brand new shade. The inspiration for the shade is taken from the element, osmium – the rarest metal in the earth’s crust. In its natural state, it is blue-black in color. What was fascinating to me is the science behind metallic color perception. There is evidence from studies done that people do indeed prefer metallic colors – bling – simply because of the increased glossiness and shine of the object that has a metallic quality to it. I’m one person that’s not very into loud bling like big accessories in gold/silver. My favorite colors are blue and black.

So, I attempted to incorporate the elements of my favorite color blue and black. By virtue of the textile itself, which incorporates metallic nanoparticles, we’re able to create a brand new sheen that we call the osmium blue finish. Our photographer also said that it’s very challenging photographing it because it reflects light from every single angle.

Symbolism of the face mask

There’s something slightly poetic about that, especially in 2020. It is an understatement to say that it’s been a very uncertain year with a lot of major changes to the entire world’s landscape. Out of this doom and gloom, the fabric mask has emerged somewhat as a symbol of hope.

For example, in Singapore, where there is widespread enforcement of mask wearing, it also symbolizes unity of sorts. The metallic sheen that comes out of this blue and black, both rather heavy colors that communicate a sense of dark and seriousness; the metallic tones actually bring out this element of hope, just in time for the festive season as well. It’s a cheerful reminder that not all is lost for the year.

Chelsea: Wow, thank you for sharing that, what a great message behind the mask! There are so many different types of face masks out there: surgical masks, n95 masks, copper mask, fabric masks etc.

Which type of face mask is the most effective? Do face masks have expiry dates? 

Dr. TWL: The issue with expiry of say surgical or N95 masks, has to do with the deterioration of the material. This would affect its filtration ability. Or, in the case of the surgical mask, the ability to be water impermeable – droplet resistant. This plays an important role in preventing droplet transmission of infectious diseases like COVID. Of course, as a manufacturer, the certifications actually require labelling of the manufacture date. If it were to be used beyond the date that was stipulated to be the expiry of disposable masks, then batch testing has to be conducted in order to re-certify that the filtration and droplet resistant properties are still intact. 

Currently, there are no regulations on reusable fabric masks. But the public health recommendation stands, as I mentioned in my book on maskne, the wearing of fabric masks is an efficient public health recommendation. This is because any form of a textile covering, as long as you wear it over the orifices – the nose, the mouth area – is able to limit droplet spread to a certain extent. For example, when you’re talking, coughing or breathing, it’s going to contain the biofluids thats responsible for spreading the pandemic.

The effect of fabric on your skin

However, the key thing to note here is that the type of textile affects the skin. We have covered the effects of biofunctional materials on the skin microbiome and how that influences the development of skin diseases. The skin microclimate is directly related to factors that you’d consider as breathability. This encompasses a lot of things, like the ability to move your jaw freely when you’re speaking. We want to feel comfortable wearing a mask when speaking, because that’s when we want the mask on.

Having a metallic nose bridge, for example, is neither necessary nor a good feature to have for a dermatologist point of view, for the purpose of public wear to limit biofluid spread. However, we’re clearly not talking about a medical setting where we directly want to protect the individual wearing the mask from the aerosols. As there is proof that COVID 19 is airborne, with large scale transmissions via asymptomatic individuals. 

What type of fabric should I choose for my face mask? Does it make a difference for my skin? 

Dr. TWL: What we know, for example, for textiles like cotton, linen, silk, these promote a healthier skin microclimate, that means there is generally less retention of heat, better wicking of moisture. But the fundamental problem, which is why I do not recommend for example, silk masks at all is because of the lack of durability, and the integrity of the textile plays a large and crucial role in terms of the function of a facial covering during a pandemic.

Should we use silk masks?

As we know, silk in our wardrobe already should not be something that we can launder, with regular detergent and put in the washing machine. This is because it’s a very delicate textile, and it’s prone to rips and tears, and it’s also much lighter. I’m not sure as to how effective that is in terms of containing your biofluids, and is definitely not water resistant. Practically speaking, it’s not going to do a very good job in containing your biofluids.

The other aspect about the care of silk is that when you’re using a reusable face mask, you are wanting to have a textile that can be laundered if you are very concerned about odors – especially when it’s something that’s covering your mouth and nose. The face mask is something that will smell, because of the respiratory nasal droplets and the moist environment coming into contact with it for a prolonged period of time.

So being able to wash the textile at high temperatures for example in a washing machine, immediately excludes the use of materials like silk. I think dry cleaning in the context of the COVID pandemic is very impractical. The hygiene of such masks is also questionable.

Chelsea: Reading your white paper on Maskne, you proposed the ideal face mask design based on biofunctional textiles.

Can you tell us about the features of biofunctional textiles, how does it affect our skin?

Dr. TWL: There are 2 main components here to discuss. The first is how effectively are the metallic ions being incorporated into the textile, or in this case, the copper mask. It is a permanent incorporation that does not wash out when you are laundering it. By virtue of this fact, the permanent incorporation means that as long as the textile does not lose its integrity, there should be no significant loss of the metallic ions that are impregnated in the textile.

The activity and function of these textiles that exist simply because when it’s in contact with these metallic ions, the bactericidal function helps to treat the skin microbiome. But of course, if there are visible rips and tears, same with any textile, then you should not continue to use it as a face mask because we do not want any loss of structural integrity to affect the effectiveness of the fabric mask in terms of biofluid containment. 

Chelsea: We know that synthetic fibers is what makes up the biofunctional textiles in your new mask line.

What is the difference between natural and synthetic fibers, can you explain the benefits and disadvantages? 

The other thing of course, is that it’s a synthetic material. Synthetic materials, as opposed to natural materials like cotton, linen, silk, are water resistant. The traditional recommendation by dermatologists has always been to wear breathable clothing, and that’s usually from natural plant fibers. Linen, cotton, these are known as breathable materials. But in the context of a pandemic when you are wearing it over your mouth, there are some unique considerations.

The high moisture levels would mean that these natural fibers which naturally absorb and retain water. This would lead to them getting very heavy and saturated. That contributes to what we call the accumulated stickiness sensation, a term used in material science that will reduce the user’s comfort. That is certainly something we don’t want because compliance is the most important when advocating widespread use of fabric mask. It will only be effective if everyone does it. So you only need one weak link for the entire chain to collapse, and it’s simply out of control. 

The effect of natural fibers on the skin

I feel that the important point here to make is the distinction between natural and synthetic fibers has to be made in terms of its effect on the skin microclimate. So for natural fibers it has a beneficial effect on the skin microclimate, but the trade off is its lack of water resistance. In this case, we want it to be water repellant, droplet resistant, so that you do not let the biofluids get beyond the textile itself which is an important feature of the surgical mask.

Durability of natural fibers

But the 2nd feature of course, is the durability. Natural fibers, unfortunately, are not durable, and can’t be laundered at the same high temperatures. Also, they may show disintegration much quicker. Biofunctional textiles have the best of both worlds. Because, they are treated with specific factors that increase the evaporation coefficient.

They are actually synthetic fibers, but because of the way it’s been treated, and plus the fact that they are incorporated with these specific metallic ions. These are metallic nanoparticles that directly treat the skin microbiome without the use of antibiotics – killing bacteria without medication. They hold a lot of promise for being adjunct therapeutics in the treatment of various skin conditions that is covered by the face mask, and is of much more practical value in the current pandemic. 

Chelsea: Well thank you again Dr. Teo for giving us this essential guide on the type of face masks we should be wearing, and tips on how to care for it. Well that about sums up the episode, thank you guys for tuning it, and we’ll see you in the next episode. 

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Read more about Dr. Teo’s latest research paper here.

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Views and opinions expressed in the podcast and website are our own and do not represent that of our places of work. The content here should not be taken as medical advice. While we make every effort to ensure that the information we are sharing is accurate, we welcome any comments, suggestions, or correction of errors.

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