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NASA And ESA Linked Research Proves How Space Travel 'Thins' Astronauts' Skin

21/07/2015 15:46 BST | Updated 21/07/2015 15:59 BST

The full effects of what travelling in space does to the human body are still largely unknown but scientists in Germany may have come one step closer to discovering one more piece to this seemingly endless puzzle.

Reuters report that a group of researchers from the Department of Biophotonics and Laser Technology at Saarland University are using advanced imaging technology to find out why skin thins in space.

samantha cristoforetti

The scientific investigation began after both NASA and ESA approached a team led by Professor Karsten Koenig to investigate the problem.

Using a femtosecond laser combined with process known as harmonic generation he observed the skin of three astronauts, including Samantha Cristoforetti and found out that space does in fact have a very surprising effect on human skin.

The technique provides incredibly high resolution images -- one thousand times better than ultrasound -- and showed how space can, in the first instance, cause a "strong production" of collagen.

What this effectively means is that there is an "anti-ageing" effect taking place in the dermis -- lower sections of the skin.

However, it also causes the epidermis -- the outermost layer of the skin -- to shrink, which means that skin gets thinner by 20%.

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Koenig said: "NASA and ESA - the European Space Agency - came to us and asked, 'is it possible to also look in the skin of astronauts?

"Because we want to know if there's any ageing process going on or what kind of modifications happened to astronauts as they work for six months out in space.' Because many astronauts complain about skin problems."

He added: "So far we have no explanation yet, and we are waiting for the other astronauts to figure out what's going on and maybe to try to figure out how we can protect, how we can help so that this epidermis is not shrinking..."

As our foray into space gets more adventurous, with expeditions being planned to Mars and beyond, Koenig's research will carry huge significance for those who spend long bouts of time away from earth.

Astronauts such as Cristoforetti, who holds the record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, have already mentioned the skin problems they experience after their long journeys.

It's a piece of the space travel puzzle that NASA and ESA will want to solve sooner rather than later.