It really gets under your skin

Published February 14, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG -- Though nanotechnology is a popular buzzword that many people don't understand, a new plant is using the concept to make something all too common: cosmetics.

Dermazone Solutions spent $2-million to rehab a 33,000-square-foot building off 30th Avenue N last year, consolidating its operations in Orlando and Clearwater into the new plant.

The company produces nano-based skin creams, sunscreens and other "cosmeceuticals" under the brands Celazome and Kara Vita.

Using patents held by a professor at the University of South Florida, the company also has branched out, producing cosmetics for other groups. "We've really come into our own," said Deborah Duffey, president of Dermazone.

Dermazone uses nanotechnology to help products work better by sending them to affected areas directly, Duffey said. Rather than apply moisturizer and have it sit on top of your skin, for example, Dermazone products aim to move the moisturizer to the lower layers of skin that need it.

The company uses "microspheres" called Lyphazomes, which are tiny balls that contain cosmetic products. These spheres penetrate the outer layer of skin before releasing one or more products slowly over time. This delivery method started as a way to help burn victims. Simply applying lotion on top of burned skin didn't work.

"Burn patients have very critical needs," said Michael Fountain, who patented Lyphazomes in the 1980s and now runs USF's program in entrepreneurship. "Their skin needs moisture, but it's severely damaged so it can't maintain moisture."

Fountain said the technique quickly evolved into nano sunscreen, which also works best beneath outer skin layers. He said there are many other potential applications for the technology.

Fountain started a company using his Lyphazome technology but left after the company went public. That company later went private again and became Dermazone. Fountain does some technical consulting for the company and is helping it with a new patent that would improve Lyphazomes.

The high-tech and investment communities are excited about all things nano and predict exotic uses, but the most practical applications so far have been in cosmetics. L'Oreal, for instance, has almost 200 patents for nanotechnologies, which are really any method of creating a product or process that operates at scales barely larger than individual atoms.

There is some concern about nanotechnology cosmetics because scientists are unsure about the long-term effects of tiny particles floating around the body. Duffey said Dermazone's spheres, however, are made of soy, so when they break down to release their cosmetic cargo, they become a substance the body can actually use, not a foreign object.

The company initially contracted with others for product production, but eventually created its own facilities to better control the process, Duffey said. Now it offers its pharamceutical-grade plant to others.

"We're hoping to capture the pharmaceutical market of companies that want to sleep at night," said Bob Dowdell, who handles work for outside companies through the name dermCM.

He said dermCM clients want to remain anonymous because they don't want it known that they don't make their own products.

He said other possible applications could be weight-loss products, prescription drug applications, even uses for animals.

"The only limit is imagination," Dowdell said. "It will be interesting to see what people bring to us."

Dermazone employs 32 people, Duffey said, but plans to double that in the next several years.

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Dermazone Solutions

2440 30th Ave. N