Perspective | Published:

Toward a new generation of smart skins

Nature Biotechnologyvolume 37pages382388 (2019) | Download Citation

Rapid advances in soft electronics, microfabrication technologies, miniaturization and electronic skins are facilitating the development of wearable sensor devices that are highly conformable and intimately associated with human skin. These devices—referred to as ‘smart skins’—offer new opportunities in the research study of human biology, in physiological tracking for fitness and wellness applications, and in the examination and treatment of medical conditions. Over the past 12 months, electronic skins have been developed that are self-healing, intrinsically stretchable, designed into an artificial afferent nerve, and even self-powered. Greater collaboration between engineers, biologists, informaticians and clinicians will be required for smart skins to realize their full potential and attain wide adoption in a diverse range of real-world settings.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.


  1. 1.

    Park, S. et al. Self-powered ultra-flexible electronics via nano-grating-patterned organic photovoltaics. Nature 561, 516–521 (2018).

  2. 2.

    Chiauzzi, E., Rodarte, C. & DasMahapatra, P. Patient-centered activity monitoring in the self-management of chronic health conditions. BMC Med. 13, 77 (2015).

  3. 3.

    Piwek, L., Ellis, D. A., Andrews, S. & Joinson, A. The rise of consumer health wearables: promises and barriers. PLoS Med. 13, e1001953 (2016).

  4. 4.

    Gambhir, S. S., Ge, T. J., Vermesh, O. & Spitler, R. Toward achieving precision health. Sci. Transl. Med. 10, eaao3612 (2018).

  5. 5.

    Someya, T. et al. A large-area, flexible pressure sensor matrix with organic field-effect transistors for artificial skin applications. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 101, 9966–9970 (2004).

  6. 6.

    Someya, T. et al. Conformable, flexible, large-area networks of pressure and thermal sensors with organic transistor active matrixes. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 102, 12321–12325 (2005).

  7. 7.

    Rogers, J. A., Someya, T. & Huang, Y. Materials and mechanics for stretchable electronics. Science 327, 1603–1607 (2010).

  8. 8.

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

  9. 9.

    Taylor, N. A. S., Tipton, M. J. & Kenny, G. P. Considerations for the measurement of core, skin and mean body temperatures. J. Therm. Biol. 46, 72–101 (2014).

  10. 10.

    Schwartz, G. et al. Flexible polymer transistors with high pressure sensitivity for application in electronic skin and health monitoring. Nat. Commun. 4, 1859 (2013).

  11. 11.

    Kang, D. et al. Ultrasensitive mechanical crack-based sensor inspired by the spider sensory system. Nature 516, 222–226 (2014).

  12. 12.

    Yao, S. & Zhu, Y. Wearable multifunctional sensors using printed stretchable conductors made of silver nanowires. Nanoscale 6, 2345–2352 (2014).

  13. 13.

    Klonoff, D. C. Noninvasive blood glucose monitoring. Diabetes Care 20, 433–437 (1997).

  14. 14.

    Lee, H. et al. Wearable/disposable sweat-based glucose monitoring device with multistage transdermal drug delivery module. Sci. Adv. 3, e1601314 (2017).

  15. 15.

    Farandos, N. M., Yetisen, A. K., Monteiro, M. J., Lowe, C. R. & Yun, S. H. Contact lens sensors in ocular diagnostics. Adv. Healthc. Mater. 4, 792–810 (2015).

  16. 16.

    Kim, J., Campbell, A. S. & Wang, J. Wearable non-invasive epidermal glucose sensors: a review. Talanta 177, 163–170 (2018).

  17. 17.

    Lee, H., Hong, Y. J., Baik, S., Hyeon, T. & Kim, D.-H. Enzyme-based glucose sensor: from invasive to wearable device. Adv. Healthc. Mater. 7, e1701150 (2018).

  18. 18.

    Koh, A. et al. A soft, wearable microfluidic device for the capture, storage, and colorimetric sensing of sweat. Sci. Transl. Med. 8, 366ra165 (2016).

  19. 19.

    Choi, J. et al. Skin-interfaced systems for sweat collection and analytics. Sci. Adv. 4, aar3921 (2018).

  20. 20.

    Gao, W. et al. Fully integrated wearable sensor arrays for multiplexed in situ perspiration analysis. Nature 529, 509–514 (2016).

  21. 21.

    Ghaffari, R., Baker, L. B. & Rogers, J. A. Skin-interfaced systems for sweat collection and analytics. Sci. Adv. 4, eaar3921 (2018).

  22. 22.

    Yokota, T. et al. Ultraflexible organic photonic skin. Sci. Adv. 2, e1501856 (2016).

  23. 23.

    Lochner, C. M., Khan, Y., Pierre, A. & Arias, A. C. All-organic optoelectronic sensor for pulse oximetry. Nat. Commun. 5, 5745 (2014).

  24. 24.

    Blattner, C. M., Coman, G., Blickenstaff, N. R. & Maibach, H. I. Percutaneous absorption of water in skin: a review. Rev. Environ. Health 29, 175–180 (2014).

  25. 25.

    Ceriello, A. Impaired glucose tolerance and cardiovascular disease: the possible role of post-prandial hyperglycemia. Am. Heart J. 147, 803–807 (2004).

  26. 26.

    Hanson, K. M. et al. Two-photon fluorescence lifetime imaging of the skin stratum corneum pH gradient. Biophys. J. 83, 1682–1690 (2002).

  27. 27.

    Segre, J. A. Epidermal barrier formation and recovery in skin disorders. J. Clin. Invest. 116, 1150–1158 (2006).

  28. 28.

    Matsui, T. & Amagai, M. Dissecting the formation, structure and barrier function of the stratum corneum. Int. Immunol. 27, 269–280 (2015).

  29. 29.

    Kubo, A., Nagao, K. & Amagai, M. Epidermal barrier dysfunction and cutaneous sensitization in atopic diseases. J. Clin. Invest. 122, 440–447 (2012).

  30. 30.

    Tsukita, S., Furuse, M. & Itoh, M. Multifunctional strands in tight junctions. Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 2, 285–293 (2001).

  31. 31.

    Candi, E., Schmidt, R. & Melino, G. The cornified envelope: a model of cell death in the skin. Nat. Rev. Mol. Cell Biol. 6, 328–340 (2005).

  32. 32.

    Manabe, M., Sanchez, M., Sun, T. T. & Dale, B. A. Interaction of filaggrin with keratin filaments during advanced stages of normal human epidermal differentiation and in ichthyosis vulgaris. Differentiation 48, 43–50 (1991).

  33. 33.

    Bouwstra, J. A. et al. Water distribution and related morphology in human stratum corneum at different hydration levels. J. Invest. Dermatol. 120, 750–758 (2003).

  34. 34.

    Kubo, A. et al. The stratum corneum comprises three layers with distinct metal-ion barrier properties. Sci. Rep. 3, 1731 (2013).

  35. 35.

    Yoshida, K. et al. Functional tight junction barrier localizes in the second layer of the stratum granulosum of human epidermis. J. Dermatol. Sci. 71, 89–99 (2013).

  36. 36.

    Van Itallie, C. M. & Anderson, J. M. Architecture of tight junctions and principles of molecular composition. Semin. Cell Dev. Biol. 36, 157–165 (2014).

  37. 37.

    Yokouchi, M. et al. Epidermal cell turnover across tight junctions based on Kelvin’s tetrakaidecahedron cell shape. Elife 5, e19593 (2016).

  38. 38.

    Nagao, K. et al. Stress-induced production of chemokines by hair follicles regulates the trafficking of dendritic cells in skin. Nat. Immunol. 13, 744–752 (2012).

  39. 39.

    Thyssen, J. P. & Menné, T. Metal allergy—a review on exposures, penetration, genetics, prevalence, and clinical implications. Chem. Res. Toxicol. 23, 309–318 (2010).

  40. 40.

    Winston, F. K. & Yan, A. C. Wearable health device dermatitis: a case of acrylate-related contact allergy. Cutis 100, 97–99 (2017).

  41. 41.

    European Task Force on Atopic Dermatitis. Severity scoring of atopic dermatitis: the SCORAD index. Consensus report of the European Task Force on Atopic Dermatitis. Dermatology 186, 23–31 (1993).

  42. 42.

    Hanifin, J. M. et al. EASI Evaluator Group. The eczema area and severity index (EASI): assessment of reliability in atopic dermatitis. Exp. Dermatol. 10, 11–18 (2001).

  43. 43.

    Zucca, A. et al. Roll to roll processing of ultraconformable conducting polymer nanosheets. J. Mater. Chem. C 3, 6539–6548 (2015).

  44. 44.

    Imani, S. et al. A wearable chemical-electrophysiological hybrid biosensing system for real-time health and fitness monitoring. Nat. Commun. 7, 11650 (2016).

  45. 45.

    Kaltenbrunner, M. et al. An ultra-lightweight design for imperceptible plastic electronics. Nature 499, 458–463 (2013).

  46. 46.

    Wang, S. et al. Skin electronics from scalable fabrication of an intrinsically stretchable transistor array. Nature 555, 83–88 (2018).

  47. 47.

    Oh, J. Y. et al. Intrinsically stretchable and healable semiconducting polymer for organic transistors. Nature 539, 411–415 (2016).

  48. 48.

    Xu, J. et al. Highly stretchable polymer semiconductor films through the nanoconfinement effect. Science 355, 59–64 (2017).

  49. 49.

    Miyamoto, A. et al. Inflammation-free, gas-permeable, lightweight, stretchable on-skin electronics with nanomeshes. Nat. Nanotechnol. 12, 907–913 (2017).

  50. 50.

    Liu, Y., Pharr, M. & Salvatore, G. A. Lab-on-skin: a review of flexible and stretchable electronics for wearable health monitoring. ACS Nano 11, 9614–9635 (2017).

  51. 51.

    Someya, T., Bao, Z. & Malliaras, G. G. The rise of plastic bioelectronics. Nature 540, 379–385 (2016).

  52. 52.

    Khan, Y., Ostfeld, A. E., Lochner, C. M., Pierre, A. & Arias, A. C. Monitoring of vital signs with flexible and wearable medical devices. Adv. Mater. 28, 4373–4395 (2016).

  53. 53.

    Choi, S., Lee, H., Ghaffari, R., Hyeon, T. & Kim, D. H. Recent advances in flexible and stretchable bio-electronic devices integrated with nanomaterials. Adv. Mater. 28, 4203–4218 (2016).

  54. 54.

    An, B. W. et al. Stretchable, transparent electrodes as wearable heaters using nanotrough networks of metallic glasses with superior mechanical properties and thermal stability. Nano Lett. 16, 471–478 (2016).

  55. 55.

    Kim, J. et al. Ultrathin quantum dot display integrated with wearable electronics. Adv. Mater. 29, 1700217 (2017).

  56. 56.

    Majid, A. Electroceuticals (Springer, 2017).

  57. 57.

    Famm, K., Litt, B., Tracey, K. J., Boyden, E. S. & Slaoui, M. A jump-start for electroceuticals. Nature 496, 159–161 (2013).

  58. 58.

    Osborn, L. E. et al. Prosthesis with neuromorphic multilayered e-dermis perceives touch and pain. Sci. Robot. 3, eaat3818 (2018).

  59. 59.

    Kim, Y. et al. A bioinspired flexible organic artificial afferent nerve. Science 360, 998–1003 (2018).

  60. 60.

    Hwang, X. et al. Epidermal radio frequency electronics for wireless power transfer. Microsyst. Nanoeng. 2, 16052 (2016).

  61. 61.

    Kim, J. et al. Battery-free, stretchable optoelectronic systems for wireless optical characterization of the skin. Sci. Adv. 2, e1600418 (2016).

  62. 62.

    Xu, S. et al. Stretchable batteries with self-similar serpentine interconnects and integrated wireless recharging systems. Nat. Commun. 4, 1543 (2013).

  63. 63.

    Fu, K. K., Cheng, J., Li, T. & Hu, L. Flexible batteries: from mechanics to devices. ACS Energy Lett. 1, 1065–1079 (2016).

  64. 64.

    Lanata, A., Guidi, A., Baragli, P., Valenza, G. & Scilingo, E. P. A novel algorithm for movement artifact removal in ECG signals acquired from wearable systems applied to horses. PLoS One 10, e0140783 (2015).

  65. 65.

    Jarchi, D. & Casson, A. J. Description of a database containing wrist PPG signals recorded during physical exercise with both accelerometer and gyroscope measures of motion. Data (Basel) 2, (1 (2017).

  66. 66.

    Norton, J. J. S. et al. Soft, curved electrode systems capable of integration on the auricle as a persistent brain-computer interface. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 3920–3925 (2015).

  67. 67.

    Debener, S., Emkes, R., De Vos, M. & Bleichner, M. Unobtrusive ambulatory EEG using a smartphone and flexible printed electrodes around the ear. Sci. Rep. 5, 16743 (2015).

  68. 68.

    Becker, D. E. Fundamentals of electrocardiography interpretation. Anesth. Prog. 53, 53–63, quiz 64 (2006).

  69. 69.

    Liu, Y. et al. Epidermal mechano-acoustic sensing electronics for cardiovascular diagnostics and human-machine interfaces. Sci. Adv. 2, e1601185 (2016).

  70. 70.

    Nazmi, N. et al. A review of classification techniques of EMG signals during isotonic and isometric contractions. Sensors (Basel) 16, (1304 (2016).

  71. 71.

    Lotharius, J. & Brundin, P. Pathogenesis of Parkinson’s disease: dopamine, vesicles and alpha-synuclein. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 3, 932–942 (2002).

  72. 72.

    Son, D. et al. Multifunctional wearable devices for diagnosis and therapy of movement disorders. Nat. Nanotechnol. 9, 397–404 (2014).

  73. 73.

    Araci, I. E., Su, B., Quake, S. R. & Mandel, Y. An implantable microfluidic device for self-monitoring of intraocular pressure. Nat. Med. 20, 1074–1078 (2014).

  74. 74.

    Kim, J. et al. Wearable smart sensor systems integrated on soft contact lenses for wireless ocular diagnostics. Nat. Commun. 8, 14997 (2017).

  75. 75.

    Yokota, T. et al. Ultraflexible, large-area, physiological temperature sensors for multipoint measurements. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 14533–14538 (2015).

  76. 76.

    Jia, W. et al. Electrochemical tattoo biosensors for real-time noninvasive lactate monitoring in human perspiration. Anal. Chem. 85, 6553–6560 (2013).

  77. 77.

    Emaminejad, S. et al. Autonomous sweat extraction and analysis applied to cystic fibrosis and glucose monitoring using a fully integrated wearable platform. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 114, 4625–4630 (2017).

Download references


The authors thank H. Lee, H. Kawasaki and T. Ebihara for fruitful discussions.

Author information


  1. Department of Electrical Engineering and Information Systems, The University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan

    • Takao Someya
  2. Thin-Film Device Laboratory & Center for Emergent Matter Science (CEMS), RIKEN, Wako, Japan

    • Takao Someya
  3. Department of Dermatology, Keio University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan

    • Masayuki Amagai
  4. Center for Integrative Medical Sciences, RIKEN, Yokohama City, Japan

    • Masayuki Amagai


  1. Search for Takao Someya in:

  2. Search for Masayuki Amagai in:

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Takao Someya or Masayuki Amagai.

About this article

Publication history




Issue Date