The viscoelastic, hyperelastic and scale dependent behaviour of freshly excised individual skin layers

Michael L. Crichton, Bogdan C. Donose, Xianfeng Chen, Anthony P. Raphael, Han Huang, Mark A F Kendall*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Citations (Scopus)


Micro-devices using mechanical means to target skin for improved drug and vaccine delivery have great promise for improved clinical healthcare. Fully realizing this promise requires a greater understanding of key micro-biomechanical properties for each of the different skin layers - that are both the mechanical barriers and biological targets of these devices. Here, we performed atomic force microscopy indentation on a micro-nano scale to quantify separately, in fresh mouse skin, the viscous and elastic behaviour of the stratum corneum, viable epidermis and dermis. By accessing each layer directly, we examined the response to nanoindentation at sub-cellular and bulk-cellular scale. We found that the dermis showed greatest mechanical stiffness (elastic moduli of 7.33-13.48 MPa for 6.62 μm and 1.90 μm diameter spherical probes respectively). In comparison, the stratum corneum and viable epidermis were weaker at 0.75-1.62 MPa and 0.49-1.51 MPa respectively (again with the lower values resulting from indentations with the large probe 6.62 μm). The living cell layer of the epidermis (viable epidermis) showed greatest viscoelasticity - almost fully relaxing from shallow indentation - whilst the other layers reached a plateau after relaxing by around 40%. With small scale (sub-micron) AFM indentation, we directly determined the effects of different layer constituents - in particular, the dermis showed that some indents contacted collagen fibrils and others contacted ground substance/cellular areas. This work has far reaching implications for the design of micro-devices using mechanical means to deliver drugs or vaccines into the skin; providing key characterized mechanical property values for each constituent of the target delivery material.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4670-4681
Number of pages12
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011


  • AFM
  • Dermis
  • Epidermis
  • Indentation
  • Mechanical properties
  • Skin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomaterials
  • Bioengineering
  • Ceramics and Composites
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Biophysics


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