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  Exploring the decline of human skin barrier function with ageing, and the impact of ethnicity and UVR exposure

   Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health

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  Dr Mark Farrar, Dr Abigail Langton  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

The project forms part of The Boots Company Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP), which aims to develop entrepreneurial, highly trained doctorate scientists with transferable research and business skills, who will make valuable contributions to the UK economy by tackling bioscience challenges of the future.

This CTP PhD opportunity is a partnership between the No7 Beauty Company, within The Boots Company PLC, and the University of Manchester. The No7 Beauty Company’s collection of inclusive and innovative beauty brands including No7, Liz Earle Beauty Company, Botanics, Soap & Glory, Sleek MakeUp and YourGoodSkin stem from a rich heritage of over 85 years in beauty and skincare. We are powered by a deep understanding of our customers and their needs with science at the heart of the skin care solutions and services developed. 

We believe that the maintenance of healthy skin for life is key in helping people lead healthier and happier lives and progress cannot be made in achieving healthy skin without cutting-edge research into skin biology, with direct access to consumers and patients Boots and No7 Beauty Company play a vital role in delivering scientific insights into the UK skincare market.

Human skin provides a crucial barrier to prevent excessive water loss from the body and to protect against environmental insults, notably ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in sunlight. Epidermal barrier function is maintained by tight junction (TJ) complexes and component of the hydrophobic, lipid rich stratum corneum. Disruption of barrier function is associated with inflammatory skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis and psoriasis. Maintaining a functional epidermal barrier is vital for optimum skin function and environmental protection.

The barrier function of skin declines with age and is influenced by UVR exposure but the impact of ethnicity on these is unknown. Previous work within the Centre for Dermatology Research at Manchester has shown that epidermal morphology and dermal composition are determined by geographical ancestry and that changes in skin related to ageing and the effect of UVR exposure differ between individuals of different ethnicity.

The aim of this project is to examine how components and function of the epidermal barrier change with ageing, including the impact of chronic and acute UVR exposure, and how this may differ between individuals of different ethnicity. Using a range of laboratory techniques and in vivo assessments, this research will explore the quantity and distribution of key components of the epidermal barrier in human skin.

Additionally, the ability of topical sunscreen to protect against changes in the epidermal barrier following acute UVR exposure will be examined. Study findings will make a significant contribution to our understanding of skin biology and epidermal barrier function and may have implications for public health messaging on sunlight exposure and photoprotection.

Moreover, it will inform development of skin care products and therapies for the protection and restoration of the skin barrier with respect to ageing and sunlight exposure that will meet the needs of our diverse population. 

Applicants are expected to hold (or about to obtain) a minimum upper second class undergraduate honours degree (or equivalent) in discipline related to biology (e.g. cell biology, biomedical sciences, biotechnology). A Masters degree in a relevant subject and/or experience of laboratory-based research are also desirable. In addition to the academic requirements for the project the following skills and behaviours would be highly advantageous: 

• A curiosity to expand your knowledge of business practices and how research insights can be translated into consumer applications 

• An appreciation of the benefits of stakeholder management 

• Strong communication skills with the ability to tailor information to the needs of different audiences

For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( 

Interested candidates must first make contact with the Primary Supervisor prior to submitting a formal application, to discuss their interest and suitability for the project. On the online application form select PhD Musculoskeletal.

Biological Sciences (4) Medicine (26)

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from both UK and non-UK residents. However, please be aware that if you are a non-UK applicant, the BBSRC requirements cap the number of PhDs that can be filled by non-UK residents at 30% per academic year.
Equality, diversity and inclusion is fundamental to the success of The University of Manchester and is at the heart of all of our activities. The full Equality, diversity and inclusion statement can be found on the website


1. Langton AK, Hann M, Costello P, Halai P, Sisto Alessi César S, Lien-Lun Chien A, Kang S, Griffiths CEM, Sherratt MJ, Watson REB. Heterogeneity of fibrillin-rich microfibrils extracted from human skin of diverse ethnicity. J Anat 2020;237:478-86.
2. Langton AK, Hann M, Costello P, Halai P, Griffiths CEM, Sherratt MJ, Watson REB. Remodelling of fibrillin-rich microfibrils by solar-simulated radiation: impact of skin ethnicity. Photochem Photobiol Sci 2020;19:1160-7.
3. Shih BB, Farrar MD, Vail A, Allan D, Chao M-R, Hu C-W, Jones GD, Cooke MS, Rhodes LE. Influence of skin melanisation and ultraviolet radiation on biomarkers of systemic oxidative stress. Free Rad Biol Med 2020;160:40-6.
4. Langton AK, Alessi S, Hann M, Chien AL, Kang S, Griffiths CEM, Watson REB. Aging in skin of color: disruption to elastic fiber organization is detrimental to skin's biomechanical function. J Invest Dermatol 2019;139:779-88.
5. Shih BB, Farrar M, Cooke MS, Osman JE, Langton AK, Kift R, Webb AR, Berry JL, Watson REB, Vail A, De Gruijl FR, Rhodes LE. Fractional sunburn threshold UVR doses generate equivalent vitamin D and DNA damage in skin types I-VI, but with epidermal DNA damage gradient correlated to skin darkness. J Invest Dermatol 2018;138;2244-52.
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