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Graphene's interactions with the skin

Are graphene and layered materials safe for skin contact?

The skin is the first interface between the body and the environment, and as such, it is the most accessible route of exposure for graphene and layered materials.

Graphene Flagship scientists at the University of Trieste found that the potential impact of few-layer graphene and graphene oxide on the skin depends on their physicochemical properties, like oxidation state and size. But only high concentrations of these materials with long exposure times led to membrane damage. This means they have low toxicity to skin cells.

In another study, the same group found that when using the exfoliation method to prepare graphene and layered materials, the choice of exfoliation agent can influence the material’s interactions with the skin. The study also showed that graphene and layered materials do not cause skin irritation after an acute exposure when they are made with non-irritating exfoliation agents.

In addition, to further assess interactions with the skin, the Graphene Flagship evaluated the effect of graphene on skin cells keratinocytes. These cells are the main component of the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, and they are crucial for skin autoregulation, maintaining barrier functions, controlling water loss, inflammatory reactions and more.

After being exposed to graphene, keratinocytes released pro-inflammatory indicators, which signify the initial activation of skin inflammation. But further investigations in the study suggest that graphene exposure does not lead to the activation of monocytes – cells that circulate in the blood and form a key part of the human body’s inflammation response. But skin inflammation is a complex process, and further studies are ongoing.