Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a lotion that sends therapy for skin ailments beneath the surface.

Despite the skin being so readily visible that does not mean it's easily accessible as scientists have long been unable to penetrate it with treatment. However, this therapy for a variety of skin ailments has an original solution.

Using nanotechnology, the researchers have created tiny structures that are less than 1/1000th the size of a human hair. Because of their small size, they are able to penetrate the surface of the skin. Once inside the system, they have the unique ability to bond onto proteins, and can specifically target genes, turning them off, and leave the healthy ones alone. The key is the shape: linear nucleoid acids cannot penetrate the surface, but spherical ones, such as these, can.

In the study, researchers applied the lotions to mice skin and to human epidermis, intending for the nanostructures to target the epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR), which are biomarkers for cancer. In both cases, they found that the nanostructures penetrated the skin very deeply, and that the cells ate up 100 percent of the nanostructures. They also found that the structures attacked the EGFR genes, perhaps inhibiting the cancer. Almost as importantly, there was no evidence of side effects, immune system triggering, or build-up of the particles in organs.

By all measures, the study was a success, though it is but a beginning step on a long journey.

However, there are concerns about nanotechnology use. There may be future side effects in longer studies and it may not be as effective in humans.

The treatment is currently being targeted at melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma, two of the most common forms of skin cancer; psoriasis; diabetic wound healing; and epidermolytic ichthyosis, a rare skin disorder that currently has no effective form of treatment. In the future, researchers say that they might even target wrinkles.

Researchers have been targeting lotions because they were hoping to find a treatment that had no toxic side effects, like oral treatments sometimes have, and does not leave scars, like surgery can.

The study will be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.