Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Ultrathin conformal devices for precise and continuous thermal characterization of human skin

An Erratum to this article was published on 23 October 2013

This article has been updated


Precision thermometry of the skin can, together with other measurements, provide clinically relevant information about cardiovascular health, cognitive state, malignancy and many other important aspects of human physiology. Here, we introduce an ultrathin, compliant skin-like sensor/actuator technology that can pliably laminate onto the epidermis to provide continuous, accurate thermal characterizations that are unavailable with other methods. Examples include non-invasive spatial mapping of skin temperature with millikelvin precision, and simultaneous quantitative assessment of tissue thermal conductivity. Such devices can also be implemented in ways that reveal the time-dynamic influence of blood flow and perfusion on these properties. Experimental and theoretical studies establish the underlying principles of operation, and define engineering guidelines for device design. Evaluation of subtle variations in skin temperature associated with mental activity, physical stimulation and vasoconstriction/dilation along with accurate determination of skin hydration through measurements of thermal conductivity represent some important operational examples.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Ultrathin, compliant, skin-like arrays of precision temperature sensors and heaters.
Figure 2: Functional demonstrations of epidermal temperature sensors and heaters.
Figure 3: Epidermal electronic evaluations of skin temperature at rest and during mental and physical stimulation.
Figure 4: Epidermal electronics for a reactive hyperaemia test.
Figure 5: Epidermal electronics configured for evaluating skin hydration and thermal conductivity.

Change history

  • 26 September 2013

    In the version of this Article originally published, in Fig. 3b,c the labels at the top of the graphs were missing. This error has been corrected in the HTML and PDF versions of the Article.


  1. Wang, S. D. et al. Mechanics of epidermal electronics. J. Appl. Mech.-T. ASME 79, 031022 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Kim, D. H. et al. Epidermal electronics. Science 333, 838–843 (2011).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Arumugam, V., Naresh, M. D. & Sanjeevi, R. Effect of strain rate on the fracture behaviour of skin. J. Biosci. 19, 307–313 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Agache, P. G., Monneur, C., Leveque, J. L. & De Rigal, J. Mechanical properties and Young’s modulus of human skin in vivo. Arch. Dermatol. Res. 269, 221–232 (1980).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cohen, M. L. Measurement of thermal-properties of human-skin—review. J. Invest. Dermatol. 69, 333–338 (1977).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Hassan, M. & Togawa, T. Observation of skin thermal inertia distribution during reactive hyperaemia using a single-hood measurement system. Physiol. Meas. 22, 187–200 (2001).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Thoresen, M. & Walloe, L. Skin blood-flow in humans as a function of environmental-temperature measured by ultrasound. Acta Physiol. Scand. 109, 333–341 (1980).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Lossius, K., Eriksen, M. & Walloe, L. Fluctuations in blood-flow to acral skin in humans—connection with heart-rate and blood-pressure variability. J. Physiol. 460, 641–655 (1993).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Crandall, C. G., Meyer, D. M., Davis, S. L. & Dellaria, S. M. Palmar skin blood flow and temperature responses throughout endoscopic sympathectomy. Anesth. Anal. 100, 277–283 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Jansky, L. et al. Skin temperature changes in humans induced by local peripheral cooling. J. Therm. Biol. 28, 429–437 (2003).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Bernjak, A., Clarkson, P. B., McClintock, P. V. & Stefanovska, A. Low-frequency blood flow oscillations in congestive heart failure and after beta1-blockade treatment. Microvasc. Res. 76, 224–232 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Holowatz, L. A., Thompson-Torgerson, C. S. & Kenney, W. L. The human cutaneous circulation as a model of generalized microvascular function. J. Appl. Physiol. 105, 370–372 (2008).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Gorbach, A. M. et al. Infrared imaging of nitric oxide-mediated blood flow in human sickle cell disease. Microvasc. Res. 84, 262–269 (2012).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Kvandal, P. et al. Low-frequency oscillations of the laser Doppler perfusion signal in human skin. Microvasc. Res. 72, 120–127 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Ishibashi, Y. et al. Short duration of reactive hyperemia in the forearm of subjects with multiple cardiovascular risk factors. Circ. J. 70, 115–123 (2006).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Huang, A. L. et al. Predictive value of reactive hyperemia for cardiovascular events in patients with peripheral arterial disease undergoing vascular surgery. Arterioscler. Thromb. Vasc. 27, 2113–2119 (2007).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Nordin, M. Sympathetic discharges in the human supraorbital nerve and their relation to sudo- and vasomotor responses. J. Physiol. 423, 241–255 (1990).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Celermajer, D. S. et al. Non-invasive detection of endothelial dysfunction in children and adults at risk of atherosclerosis. Lancet 340, 1111–1115 (1992).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Akhtar, M. W., Kleis, S. J., Metcalfe, R. W. & Naghavi, M. Sensitivity of digital thermal monitoring parameters to reactive hyperemia. J. Biomech. Eng. 132, 051005 (2010).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Deshpande, C. Thermal Analysis of Vascular Reactivity. MS thesis, Texas A&M Univ. (2007).

  21. Gustafsson, S. E. Transient plane source techniques for thermal conductivity and thermal diffusivity measurements of solid materials. Rev. Sci. Instrum. 62, 797–804 (1991).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Park, J. H., Lee, J. W., Kim, Y. C. & Prausnitz, M. R. The effect of heat on skin permeability. Int. J. Pharm. 359, 94–103 (2008).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Paranjape, M. et al. A PDMS dermal patch for non-intrusive transdermal glucose sensing. Sens. Actuat. A 104, 195–204 (2003).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Ikeda, T. et al. Local radiant heating increases subcutaneous oxygen tension. Am. J. Surg. 175, 33–37 (1998).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


This material is based on work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DGE-1144245, Grant No. ECCS-0824129 and through the Materials Research Laboratory and Center for Microanalysis of Materials at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. J.A.R. acknowledges financial support through a National Security Science and Engineering Faculty Fellowship. The work on silicon nanomembranes was financially supported by a MURI grant from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. This research was supported in part by the Intramural Research Program of NIBIB, NIH. The authors would like to thank H. Eden for his invaluable critique and insightful comments during preparation of this manuscript.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



A.P.B., R.C.W., A.B., A.M.G. and J.A.R. designed the experiments. A.P.B., R.C.W., K.J.Y., Y-S.K., W-H.Y. and J.S.P. carried out the fabrication. A.P.B., R.C.W., A.B., A.M.G. and J.A.R. carried out experimental validation and data analysis. Y.Z., Z.B., J.S., Y.L. and Y.H. contributed to the thermal modelling of sensor response time and reactive hyperaemia. H.C., M.S., Z.L. and Y.H. contributed to the mechanical modelling of strain. R.C.W., A.P.B., A.B., Y.Z., H.C., Z.B., Y.H., A.M.G. and J.A.R. co-wrote the paper.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to John A. Rogers.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Information (PDF 1912 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Webb, R., Bonifas, A., Behnaz, A. et al. Ultrathin conformal devices for precise and continuous thermal characterization of human skin. Nature Mater 12, 938–944 (2013).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing