Today’s moisturisers may make skin look and feel better, but tomorrow’s products may be able to switch off the genes that underlie many skin diseases. Researchers at Northwestern University have created small nanoparticles that can silence disease-related genes in skin cells after being applied via a cream or ointment.

Described today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the particles consist of small strands of RNA, densely packed around a gold core. They were 100 times more effective at shutting down a target gene than an alternative method using lipids to carry RNA into cells, and showed no harmful effects after weeks of use. With further testing and development, they could provide new ways of treating skin cancer, psoriasis, and other skin disorders caused by faulty or overactive genes.