Sweat-Proof 'Smart Skin' Measures Vitals Without Deterioration

The new breathable skin patch rules out wrong information or detachment from the skin.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The skin patch up-closeFelice Frankel/ MIT

In the past, we have brought you all types of electronic skins from the self-healing kind to the type that mimics the stretchability of human skin. All these skins though had one thing in common: they could malfunction and peel away as a result of being exposed to sweat.

Now, MIT engineers and researchers in South Korea have developed an electronic skin that is sweat-proof. 

“With this conformable, breathable skin patch, there won’t be any sweat accumulation, wrong information, or detachment from the skin,” said Jeehwan Kim, associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “We can provide wearable sensors that can do constant long-term monitoring.”

The new skin is equipped with artificial sweat ducts that resemble pores in human skin and that have been etched through the material’s ultrathin layers. This ensures that sweat can escape through the electronic skin avoiding damaging and deteriorating the wearable skin. 

The researchers now believe their new skin can be used in long-lasting smart skins that can track daily vitals or the progression of skin cancer and other conditions. The novel skin all began when Kim was investigating other electronic skins.

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He found that some would let air in and out but none would do the same with sweat. Kim realized that for electronic skin to really be wearable and usable, it would have to be permeable to not just vapor but also sweat.

“Sweat can accumulate between the e-skin and your skin, which could cause skin damage and sensor malfunctioning,” Kim said. “So we tried to address these two problems at the same time, by allowing sweat to permeate through electronic skin.”

Kim and his team then turned to inspiration from actual human skin. They studied how human sweat pores were aligned and how they behaved and came up with a similar pattern for their electronic skin. Now, the only thing left to do is to improve the resistance of the electronic skin that is currently very soft making it quite fragile.

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