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New method to measure our sense of touch

Knowledge of how the sense of touch is affected by aging is not yet fully understood. Researchers from RISE and L’Oréal have developed a new method to quantify tactile acuity using active touch, namely by measuring their ability to discriminate different textured surfaces with the hand’s fingers. The method allowed the researchers to quantify and better understand why elderly show reduced tactile ability even by active touch.

While we know pretty well what causes deteriorated vision and impaired hearing, less is known about the mechanisms behind a diminished sense of touch. Even less is known about how to evaluate this process, and what can be done to improve the sense of touch after deterioration has occurred.

“Our experience when using cosmetic products is affected by how it looks, smells and feels to touch. With age, our sensory functions decline. This is even true for the sense of touch. However, the mechanisms underlying this process are not yet fully understood. A functioning sense of touch is of major importance for life quality and relationships with others. For the elderly this could mean a loss of social contact and dampened emotional response, as well as a feeling of apprehension of their environment,” says Lionel Breton, Scientific Director at L’Oréal Advance research.

For L’Oréal, it was important to obtain a relevant, objective method to evaluate tactile ability which could be adapted to clinical trials.

“The objective was to evaluate and characterize differences in tactile ability between age groups and the effect of topically applied products. RISE’s approach appeared interesting to us because it introduces an evaluation of perception based on stimulus response using psychophysical methods,” Lionel Breton continues.

“RISE previous research within fine textured surfaces and their expertise in psychophysics was the foundation for developing the new methodology. Previously, such a method did not exist for measuring how sensitive people’s sense of active touch is.”

“Thanks to both research teams’ expertise, a new method with relevance for the cosmetic industry has been developed. Differences in tactile ability between young and elderly were observed as well as differences in skin hydration and elasticity. An unexpected outcome of the study was that some individuals retain their tactile acuity with age. This difference within the elderly group could be related to the mechanoreceptor density that L’Oréal was able to measure independently,” says Lisa Skedung at RISE. 

“We have learned more about how the sense of active touch is affected by age and have also discovered that some individuals retain their tactile acuity with age. We want this to be the reality for everybody. For us, this means that there is probably space for cosmetic products that improves the sense of touch and can help the elderly to recover a better quality of life,” says Lionel Breton at L’Oréal.

“The results have been useful, and L’Oréal is engaged in optimizing the method and reduce variability in order to evaluate product performance.”

“The objective is to improve and optimize our anti-aging products by including this method in our sensorial evaluations of our cosmetic products.”

What is your impression working together with RISE?

“This is a real partnership, much more than a one-time service delivery, where everyone brings their expertise to push the project and reach the goal. We appreciate the professionalism, rigor and enthusiasm of the research team at RISE, who share the same values as L’Oréal R&I researchers.”

“So far, we have only scratched the surface and a great deal remains to be done to understand even more complex aspects of touch, for example looking at more or less fine, hard, soft, sticky, and slippery touch. We are engaged in a long-term collaboration with RISE in numerous subjects of interest for L’Oréal.”