Contact modelling of human skin: what value to use for the modulus of elasticity?

Julien van Kuilenburg, Marc Arthur Masen, Emile van der Heide

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In modelling and understanding the contact and friction behaviour of human skin, the elastic modulus of the skin is an important input parameter. For the development of design rules for the engineering of surfaces in contact with the skin an expression that describes the relation between the elastic modulus of the skin and the size of the contact is essential. Although an exact description of the mechanical behaviour of the skin requires an anisotropic, nonlinear, viscoelastic model, in this study it was found that for contact modelling involving relatively small deformations, the mechanical behaviour seems to be accurately described by a single parameter: the effective elastic modulus. The effective elastic modulus is shown to decrease several orders of magnitude when the length scale increases, which is the consequence of the rather complex anatomy of the skin. At an indentation depth of 10 µm, the effective elastic modulus was shown to decrease from 0.15 to 0.015 MPa when the radius of curvature of the indenter increases from 10 µm to 10 mm. The variation of the elasticity is explained by the variation in the composition and properties of the different skin layers. This study shows that for the contact modelling of human skin, a closed-form expression based on the anatomy of the skin exists, which yields the magnitude of the effective elastic modulus of the skin as a function of the length scale of the contact depending on variables such as age, gender and environmental conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-361
JournalProceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Part J: Journal of engineering tribology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • IR-85143
  • METIS-295269


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