How Does Space Affect An Astronaut’s Skin?

Have you ever stared up into the night sky and suddenly felt a desire to be lost within that boundless vast void? Don’t you ever want to be a part of it somehow? Unfortunately, your sane mind usually reminds you that the only way you can be up there is by becoming an astronaut.

While that is an admirable goal, if you are particularly concerned with your physical appearance, my suggestion would be to drop the idea of becoming an astronaut and find some other path in life.

What Does it Take to Become an Astronaut?

Apart from intelligence (obviously), you need a lot of other things if you want to become an astronaut. First of all, you need to be creative, you need to be a team player, and you need to be a person who won’t freak out when a piece of the spacecraft ceases to work. Perhaps most importantly, you need to be a person who is ready to make sacrifices.

Although astronauts make many sacrifices that are far more important than the one we are going to discuss, it still doesn’t mean that our particular topic is any less of a sacrifice.

Scientists in Germany are in the process of determining some of the peculiar impacts of living in space, including how weightlessness affects the skin. To conduct this research, scientists used high-resolution images of astronauts and found that after spending 6 months in space, their epidermis (outermost layer of skin) was up to 20% thinner than it was before. Typically, thinning of the epidermis is linked to aging in humans, not going out into space!

An Experiment by the ESA

The ESA, or the European Space Agency, has been working on a project called Skin B, which was commissioned by NASA. For this project, Professor Karsten Koenig from Saarland University scanned the skin of three astronauts before and after their trips to space. These test subjects included Luca Parmitano and Samantha Cristoforetti (Italian), and Germany’s Alexander Gerst.


Standing (R-L) Luca Parmitano and Alexander Gerst, Samantha Cristoforetti (sitting)

Ms. Cristoforetti went on to her space trip to the ISS (International Space Station) in November 2014 and returned to Earth on June 11, 2015, becoming the only woman to have spent 199 days in space, surpassing the record of Sunita Williams (195 days). After she returned from her trip, scientists used femtosecond laser pulses to receive signals from her skin. These signals marked the levels of fluorescence and ‘second harmonic generation.’

Samantha Cristoforetti

Samantha Cristoforetti

Both of these signals are associated with the way light is absorbed and reflected from the skin. The scans carried out were of ultra high resolution, roughly ‘a thousand times higher than that of ultrasonic devices’, which allowed them to reveal information without the need for taking biopsies.

Conclusion of the Experiment

The results of the experiment were quite interesting. After examining the skin of these astronauts, it was found that there was a sudden increase in the production of collagen in the inner layer of the skin, which meant that some sort of ‘anti-aging’ effect was at play. However, the outer layer, i.e., the surface of the skin, seemed to be shrinking or thinning.

Thinning of the skin is usually caused by a loss of moisture between the outer layer and the inner layer (epidermis and dermis) of the skin. It is also caused due to the shrinking of fat cells, which leads to the skin losing its sheen and thus looking older.


Usually, after the age of 40, the production of collagen in the skin reduces, consequently making the skin look older and paler than in earlier decades. It also causes the skin to gradually lose its elasticity, resulting in wrinkles forming on the skin.

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Essentially, this means that when the astronauts returned from space after spending 6 months up there, they appeared slightly older than they actually were. This experiment also explained why some astronauts experience skin dryness and itching after spending a significant amount of time in space. (Source)

Quite a sacrifice to make, in my opinion, but maybe I’m just vain!

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About the Author

Ashish is a Science graduate (Bachelor of Science) from Punjabi University (India). He spends a lot of time watching movies, and an awful lot more time discussing them. He likes Harry Potter and the Avengers, and obsesses over how thoroughly Science dictates every aspect of life… in this universe, at least.

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