Dresden-based start-up "DermaPurge" develops skin cleanser for hazardous substances

Global Handwashing Day

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The 15th of October was Global Handwashing Day. Since the days of COVID-19, at the latest, everyone knows how important handwashing is for general hygiene. However, this day has not just existed since the pandemic, but already since 2008.

Hand hygiene is not only an essential issue in healthcare facilities and in everyday life. In all areas where hazardous substances have to be handled, such as in laboratories of scientific research institutions, in industry or even in the fire department, people need products other than soap to be able to remove the substances from the skin again quickly.

Two researchers from TU Dresden, Dr. Jonas Schubert and Dr. Max Schnepf, have joined forces and, in close cooperation with the Institute for Physical Chemistry and Polymer Physics at TUD, have developed special, skin-friendly cleaning agents to remove hazardous substances from the skin. Together with Felix Klee, they founded the company "DermaPurge" in 2019.

On the occasion of the Global Handwashing Day, "dresden|exists" visited the founding team of "DermaPurge".

dresden|exists: Mr. Klee, you are a co-founder of DermaPurge. Briefly describe for us what the topic of hand washing has to do with your company.

Felix Klee: We at DermaPurge develop skin cleansing products that protect your skin against hazardous substances. This has something to do with the Global Handwashing Day, because there are still millions of employees in Germany alone who occasionally or regularly have to wash hazardous substances off their skin. This is not possible with conventional skin cleansers - such as soap, for example. And that's where our products come in.

dresden|exists: What products are you developing?

Felix Klee: The journey started with nano-ex. That's a patent to get rid of tiny particles from your skin. We developed this gel for laboratories where people work with nanoparticles - in research or industry, to name just a few. With nano-ex, we developed a patent with which 4-nanometer particles can be removed from the skin. Just try to imagine that.... We're talking about the thickness of a DNA strand. And such small particles, which pose a health risk, can be removed from your skin in an emergency.

The next product we developed was powder-ex. It is used in industry - including 3D printing. This is where dangerous metal powders are melted, which you want to be able to wash away reliably and, above all, gently from your skin before you go on your lunch break, for example. Another example is dental laboratories, where employees grind and polish and are not even allowed to wear gloves for occupational safety reasons. There you also need something to reliably get these substances off your skin.

Our latest patent is Pak-ex. We have developed this especially for professions that work with carcinogenic substances resulting from combustion processes, such as firefighters or chimney sweeps. Even when wearing protective clothing, the carcinogenic substances can still be absorbed through your skin. We won an award for pak-ex this year, as the best product innovation for the firefighting sector.

dresden|exists: That sounds very exciting. How did you come up with this idea and what does TUD have to do with it?

Felix Klee: TUD has contributed a great deal to our inventions. My two colleagues and co-founders Max and Jonas both completed their PhDs at TUD and developed the first patent for nano-ex while still working on their doctorates. At the time, they witnessed an accident at work in which a colleague got a certain type of nanoparticle on her skin, which could not be washed off. Back then, they worked in their after-work hours and subsequently developed the patent that we have now brought to market. I was still working at the university hospital in Dresden at the time and then joined the team to develop a marketable product. It all started at TUD.

dresden|exists: Research and development are important areas for you. What projects do you have coming up in the near future?

Max Schnepf: We have two major projects in the development pipeline right now. One is a product that can be used to remove chemical warfare agents from the skin. We are working with the German armed forces on this, because they currently have a problem with their existing products. The products they are currently using are relatively irritating to the skin because the chemical warfare agent must be destroyed after treatment. We are currently conducting research to develop a product that both destroys a warfare agent and does not stress the skin quite so much.

The second major project is a refinement of nano-ex and powder-ex - a cosmetic product for the consumer sector. The idea is that people who live in big cities and are therefore exposed to a lot of smog or other environmental influences, such as fine dust, can wash these substances off their skin more easily. Anyone who has ever been to a big city, for example in Asia, knows what we are talking about.

dresden|exists: Didn't you once carry out a pilot project on hand washing at a kindergarten? Could you tell us about it?

Jonas Schubert: We came together in March 2020, at the beginning of the Corona pandemic. Our powder-ex and nano-ex products have the property of being are very colorful. We had the idea of using this colored effect, the indicator effect. This way, you can see whether you have washed your hands properly. We wanted to apply this effect to a normal hand cleanser. For this purpose, we developed a product here in Dresden in cooperation with the company LiiL, which sells its products under the brand name Dresdner Essenz, and then offered it on the market. We also went to a kindergarten to show the children how to wash their hands properly. We even received an award for our "learning soap" as part of the Else Kröner Fresenius Foundation's special call for entries on "Improving hygiene in hospitals or outpatient facilities".

dresden|exists: What did you learn from this project?

Felix Klee: When it comes to hand washing, I have noticed that the visual feedback, i.e. that you can really see where the soap has already been rubbed in, leads to you cleaning your hands much more attentively.

By thoroughly soaping your hands, you realize that you might not always do this quite so thoroughly in everyday life. The learning effect through the visual feedback was really high and I now pay even more attention to it.

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