The skin of astronauts in space gets 20pc thinner, but we don’t know why

22 Jul 2015

It appears in space, you quite literally have to have a thick skin, as new findings from research conducted on NASA astronauts in space shows their skin becomes 20pc thinner than on Earth, and we have no idea why.

The decision to look into the phenomenon experienced by astronauts in space was commissioned by both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) and sought the help of a team from the Department of Biophotonics and Laser Technology at Saarland University in the Netherlands to look into it.

Discussing the findings on Capital Wired, the researchers recruited the help of three NASA astronauts who were subjected to advanced imaging technology that appears to show a two-stage degradation process once they leave Earth.

From their findings, in the first stage, human skin begins to produce higher levels of collagen in space, which then enters a second stage where the epidermis itself then begins to shrink with regard to its living cells, thereby shrinking the skin.

The imaging technology used by the research team led by Prof Karsten Koenig used a series of femtosecond laser pulses that gathered data on the skin’s fluorescence and its harmonic generation, which was then used to come to these new and yet mysterious conclusions.

This technique is 1,000 times more accurate than ultrasound and can be done instantaneously by astronauts aboard the station to measure readings of their own health like never before.

But alas, the mystery of the shrinking skin continues to mystify the team, with Prof Koenig saying: “So far we have no explanation yet, and we are waiting for the other astronauts to figure out what’s going on and maybe to try to figure out how we can protect, how we can help, so that this epidermis is not shrinking.”

Astronaut in space image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic