Nanotechnology Could Cure Teenage Acne Forever

Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have created the most high-tech solution to teenage anxiety yet: a treatment for acne that uses a combination of ultrasound, gold-covered nanoparticles, and lasers.

Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have created the most high-tech solution to teenage anxiety yet: a treatment for acne that uses a combination of ultrasound, gold-covered nanoparticles, and lasers.


The research is unique because it has created what amounts to a therapeutic regimen that works in three distinct steps. And rather than treating the symptoms of acne, like medications that can dry the face and cause extreme sensitivity to sunlight, the nanotechnology treatment attacks acne at its source.

First, golden nanoparticles, whose width is less than one-hundredth that of a human hair, are applied to the skin. Then, ultrasound pushes the particles through the hair follicle into the sebaceous gland, which releases the oily substance responsible for causing acne. Finally, a laser is shined on the skin that turns the gold particles into heat, disabling the glands

Published in the Journal of Controlled Release, researchers explain that the treatment would not cause the skin to dry out since the blocking of follicles would simply be prevented:

"Called selective photothermolysis, the method does not irritate or dry the skin's surface. In addition, it poses no risk of resistance or long-term side effects that can occur with antibiotics or other systemic treatments."

The extremely small size of the golden particles that penetrate hair follicles is the key to the treatment, an advance brought about by the development of nanotechnology, or the ability to control physical elements at the nanoscale. The future for this technology is promising, particularly regarding the treatment of medical conditions located in the brain. 

An obstacle called the blood-brain barrier currently prevents most medications from treating the brain directly, but nanotechnology can overcome those obstacles. More interesting still is the technology's potential to aid learning by carrying encoded information directly to memory centers in the brain. It's a technology currently beyond the horizon, to be sure, but Nicholas Negroponte explains how it would work in his Big Think interview:

"The best way to interact with the brain is from the inside, from the bloodstream. Because if you inject tiny robots into the bloodstream, they can get very close to all the cells and nerves and things in your brain, really close. So if you want to input information or read information, you do it through the bloodstream. So by extension ... you could in theory load Shakespeare into your bloodstream and as the little robots get to the various parts of the brain, they deposit little pieces of Shakespeare or little pieces of French if you want to learn how to speak French."

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Photo credit: Getty Images / Stringer
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