Words by f.nada

Vogue recently declared skincare to be the new makeup in an article exalting the dewy bare faces featured in Valentino’s Fall 2016 collection. But for those of us who need a little help, scientists at MIT have created a foolproof way to cheat the system, offering a sci-fi alternative to caking it on #TopicalCream.


XPL creates a cross-linked polymer layer which binds to skin.

The MIT lab’s new topical cream creates a faux film of skin that covers your natural epidermis to hide wrinkles and age spots etc. The magic created by this transparent “catalyst” cream binds to the surface of the face. The material is known as a cross-linked polymer layer or XPL. The XPL has a networked chemical structure called a polysiloxane that, after extensive testing, perfectly mimics the movement and texture of skin without creasing or puckering from wear. The cream has moisturizing and wrinkle-removing properties that last up to 24 hours. With continued development, XPL has promising applications not just for cosmetics, but for delivering drugs through the skin as well.

While its current use-value is obvious to anyone grappling with the aesthetic betrayals of our mortality, it’s not all vanity and empty dreams of youth. It also turns out it will soon be useful in a softball game or in a house fire as it’ll be resistant to injuries and burns, while maintaining elasticity. Having a new fireproof (!) skin option is a frequently imagined possibility that is soon to be realized. The creators of the XPL cream are already co-founders of a start-up called Olivo Labs which hopes to use the skin tech in these types of situations. Their last venture was Living Proof, the line of scientifically-driven hair products, so it’s only a matter of time before XPL becomes a consumer product.


XPL or Second Skin is a new product by Olivo Labs.

In Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, Antonio Banderas plays a decorated plastic surgeon who invents something that sounds uncannily like MIT’s XPL. Essentially, he derives a formula for perfect skin, which he uses to imprison, experiment on, and ultimately transform a young man into the spitting image of his dead wife. The film unravels the fantasy image of the perfect woman constructed out of violence through the abusive use of technological power. The process towards promised perfection, liberation from gendered norms, even transcendence over human limitation manifests in a profoundly painful and intensive way.

What does this suggest for the future of XPL? Beyond skin-based systems of expression like tattooing and plastic surgery is the seemingly benign deployment of fashion “on the skin’s surface.” In the early 1990s,virtual environments began to develop, allowing users to create screen personas or avatars with customized “skins.” XPL does seem like the next logical step because in theory one could (at least on their face) select the color of skin they wanted for that morning. Perhaps the wet dream of Rachel Dolezal could finally become a “reality” thanks to some well-meaning researchers at MIT.


Rachel Dolezal relaxes at home comfortable with her racial identity. Photograph by Justin Bishop.

With this new skin, identity performance on an extra-internet dimension could replicate the way we’re accustomed to it in virtual space. Think of how layers are flattened in a Photoshop jpeg, where a digital blending occurs between the original and the altered. Imagine an ad for XPL offering consumers a temporary retreat into the desired youth of teenaged cyborgs. The future nude is a smooth polysiloxane skin, genderless, with the tone of your choice, a product that actualizes the illusions of Adobe Photoshop, grafting the technological image onto the living organism. Your face has become a living illusion.