Second skin

A conceptual garment provides an alternative form of sun protection.

A speculative project by Central Saint Martins graduate Maca Barrera introduces a ‘second skin’ made using bacterial melanin that reacts to the environment depending on the geography and UV radiation level, and offers elevated sun protection. 


Considering the negative effects sunscreens have on our environment, Barrera’s project, titled ‘Melwear’, considers how we can protect our bodies from UV rays while also protecting the health of the planet. The thin, wearable bodysuit incorporates encapsulated melanin to create a barrier on top of the skin. The melanin capsules become active and gradually darken when the user is exposed to UV rays.


To address the challenge of harmful sun protection, Barrera focused on the production of melanin – a natural pigment detected abundantly in a wide array of organisms and microorganisms that plays a vital role in sun protection. Barrera turned to the production of bacterial melanin, an emerging technology which sees the biosynthesis of melanin within bacteria.


Synthetic biologists are growing melanin-producing bacteria in labs and experimenting with various ways to apply or extract the pigment. The fast-growing nature of bacteria affords an opportunity for the pigment to be inexpensively mass-produced. The production of this bacterial melanin offers a sun protection solution that can help to minimise negative impacts on ecosystems and human health.


‘For too long, we've seen our bodies as capsules, protecting them from all types of microorganisms,’ the designer told Dezeen. ‘In doing so, we have not only killed harmful bacteria but also healthy microbes that could protect our bodies from pathogens.


‘My focus in this project was to reconnect with microbes, learn from them and their biological systems and harness the incredible power of these organisms. They may be invisible to our naked eye, but they hold the essential power to protect our bodies and preserve our lives.’



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