BLANCH : Eight years ago Linda Lowndes began developing an innovative "simulated second skin" that helps cover scars, birthmarks and burns. A former professional make-up artist on movie sets, Linda's invention is sprayed on and appears as a person's own skin, both to the eye and to the touch and will stay in place through showers, swimming, sweat and heat.
So what motivated Linda to help people in this way?
LINDA LOWNDES : Well about eight years ago, I met a little girl that has a heart condition and she was recommended to come to me as a make-up artist actually and there was nothing really out there for her. Her face actually was blue in tone, due to lack of oxygen and medication and her one desire was to go to her school Formal and look normal like the rest of the girls.
So that is actually what started the ball rolling and then once I worked on this young lady and it was all a success, but it was just the beginning of the Microskin system and the new venture. So it led me down a path and what I mainly focused on after meeting this young lady was birthmarks. So I had five clinical trial patients for five years and I worked on the product and the system to read the human skin.
BLANCH : Yes, as a make-up artist, you knew that applying layers to mask a condition just doesn't work. So what is it that you wanted the product to be able to do?
LINDA LOWNDES : What I wanted the product to do would be to look like the skin, like a simulated skin, so have the appearance of the natural skin, not look like a make-up, not create that masked effect. What I had to do was create a simulated skin that bonded to the epidermis--the top layer of the skin, also was waterproof, flexible and last for days. Generic make-up doesn't do any of those. You might get a day out of it and men don't feel like they can wear it, so this is for men, women and children. So I knew that there had to be something more that I could do out there than what there was to offer.
BLANCH : So how's the second skin removed? Does it wear off or what, if it lasts three or four days?
LINDA LOWNDES : You can allow it to wear off or you can allow it to wear off a little bit and you could top up. But at the end of the week or maybe during the week, it all depends what skin condition you have, you take it of with a removing serum, a special serum to be able to remove the Microskin from the skin, clean the skin, prep the skin, always make sure that you have a really good base to work from and that the skin is kept clean and then off we go again, and they re-apply the Microskin again.
BLANCH : So how resilient is it? Can a male for instance shave through it?
LINDA LOWNDES : Yes, actually, a male can shave, but we have legs too, so the girls can shave over it. That's where I've tested it out. I was sitting in a bath one day, I had it on my legs, and I thought I'm going to give it a go. So I started shaving over it and it still stayed there.
BLANCH : Well Linda, getting the formula right would have been no easy task. So what were some of the difficulties that you encountered?
LINDA LOWNDES : There's an awful lot of things. I had to build in the heat factor of the skin and working with the birthmarks too, if you get cold or if you get hot, it changes the colour of the birthmark. Also the sweat, the durability, the lasting power, you have to actually get the formula to work with the skin, also using pigments in the formula, the acidity levels of the skin can change the colour of the formula. You've got to cover a lot of areas to be able to cater for all of these things that go on with the human skin.
BLANCH : Well, you're not a chemist, and you're not an IT specialist either. So how did you DO the chemistry and the colour enhancing system that you developed?
LINDA LOWNDES : Through total trial and error, pure dedication. I think actually obsession and I learnt. I was doing mathematical sums that virtually actually nearly blew my mind. I worked all day, all night, while I was sleeping. I'd get up in the morning and re-mix a formula, I'd surf the Net, I'd send for products from all round the world, I would speak to people, I would educate myself and I'd learn the hard way. I'd fall and I'd have to get back up again. I'd work with chemists, I'd attend conferences. I had to do it myself, because actually no one believed that the product would work or it would be successful and I had to believe in myself to keep going.
BLANCH : So what's the process for someone who wants to use the product?
LINDA LOWNDES : What you do is you'd ring one of our lovely staff members and ring up and book a consultation and they will talk you through step-by-step about what happens at the Microskin clinic. Once they book an appointment, they'd come in for a scan. We scan the human skin; we scan the good skin, the affected area. We reproduce a human skin colour and then we train each and every individual to apply it to themselves so they can become independent. And then once they've got their product, they go home and then they can use it.
BLANCH : So since developing your system, you and your team have partnered with Brisbane's Royal Children's Hospital and their paediatric burns centre. So what was that study?
LINDA LOWNDES : The study--it was a clinical study on the psychological effects that Microskin can have on a child and the parent's self-esteem and the relationship that they have with their peers and their family and it was an absolute success. It was amazing. They found results that they didn't expect to find just by using the Microskin.
BLANCH : So more confidence or what sort of results came from it?
LINDA LOWNDES : Oh huge. The confidence, them interacting with other children, feeling apart, not being teased, not being bullied, feeling that they could go out social functions with their family.
BLANCH : Did you get to talk to any of these children that have had burns and so on in that study?
LINDA LOWNDES : Oh, we actually trained them. I trained every single one of them. There were twenty of them. So we brought them into the training room, we scanned their skin, reproduced their skin colour, and then we trained ten children in a block and we trained the children how to use Microskin. It was the most amazing experience of my life, because to watch these children pick up an airbrushing gun, and spray themselves whether their fingers weren't totally there, their hands might be twisted from the burns. It was amazing. They never gave in. They tried their very, very hardest and I always set that example for other people that come into the clinic. So I became very close to the twenty children.
BLANCH : Well, your company has now won a National Business Award for Innovations, so congratulations for that.
LINDA LOWNDES : Thank you very much.
BLANCH : And what will this mean for you and the company?
LINDA LOWNDES : Well so far, already we're having international inquiries, like people are sending us information and asking us whether we would like to go international and whether they could become a part of Microskin. We're having so much media coverage, radio--thank you and much, much more. It's been amazing.
BLANCH : So what is next for the whole product and the business?
LINDA LOWNDES : Expansion. We will be going Australia-wide. By the end of next year, we hope to be in each state, two clinics in each state and then we'd hope to go worldwide. We're having people flying in from America, Sweden, England, Asia, so they're having to come to us at this present time. But we hope to bring it to everyone, so we can share the experience of Microskin.
BLANCH : Well yours is a sensitive and delicate area that you're dealing with, with people. So there must be many stories, but what is your favourite?
LINDA LOWNDES : My favourite. They're all my favourite, because when a patient comes to the clinic, they break down because they feel they've got their freedom back, they feel they can go and mix in society, they can go and get a new job, they can do whatever they want now, but it takes a lot of confidence, because a lot of people walk around for so many years feeling different, or feeling not a part and they have to adjust to the change, because the change is very instant, and this takes quite some time for them to adjust. But once they've adjusted, it's overwhelming, the letters that we get, the responses, the gifts, the phone calls.
There was one lady in Melbourne actually who had vitiligo all over her body and she moved away from the beach, she used to live on the beach. She left a government job, a very high profile job. Her whole life just fell around her and when she came to Microskin, her mother had passed away, the stress could have exacerbated the vitiligo.
BLANCH : Vitiligo is where it has patchy colours, isn't it?
LINDA LOWNDES : That's correct, they have white skin and they might be whatever skin tone they are, they'll lose the pigment from their skin.
She had this beautiful religious piece of jewellery on her that her mother had given to her when she passed away. She was so overwhelmed, she put the necklace around my neck, and said you must have this, you have changed my life. It still makes me cry now. That was her special thing from her mother. So to me, I'll never forget that woman.
BLANCH : So back to the movies, where obviously this, in a way started, because you know that's where you realised that you couldn't make make-up work to do the sot of job that's now happening. So back to the movies, what did you like working on the best, amongst all those big name movies that you were part of?
LINDA LOWNDES : Oh, I worked on so many different movies and I lived in London for eight years and worked on some great productions in London.
One of the one's that I did enjoy, I just did Peter Pan and that was in Brisbane. It was filmed at the studios and that was a wonderful thing to work on with all the mermaids.
So what I do is a reproduce colours and design. I'm a technical colour specialist and I design all the colours that actually one movie that I did work on was "Lord of the Rings" so I provided and designed all the colours for the Orks and Hobbits and so on like that. So that's why I specialise in colour and that's where it's given me the edge and the ability to reproduce and find the missing link to correct the human skin colour. So I guess that's where my advantage has been.
BLANCH : From Brisbane, Queensland, Linda Lowndes, the inventor of Microskin, a simulated second skin that blends seamlessly into a person's own regardless of whatever skin condition they have.
Linda Lowndes, Inventor/Director
Microskin International, 271a Rode Road, Wavell Heights, QLD 4012