In vivo stiffness measurement of epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis using broadband Rayleigh-wave optical coherence elastography


Traveling-wave optical coherence elastography (OCE) is a promising technique to measure the stiffness of biological tissues. While OCE has been applied to relatively homogeneous samples, tissues with significantly varying elasticity through depth pose a challenge, requiring depth-resolved measurement with sufficient resolution and accuracy. Here, we develop a broadband Rayleigh-wave OCE technique capable of measuring the elastic moduli of the 3 major skin layers (epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis) reliably by analyzing the dispersion of leaky Rayleigh surface waves over a wide frequency range of 0.1-10 kHz. We show that a previously unexplored, high frequency range of 4-10 kHz is critical to resolve the thin epidermis, while a low frequency range of 0.2-1 kHz is adequate to probe the dermis and deeper hypodermis. We develop a dual bilayer-based inverse model to determine the elastic moduli in all 3 layers and verify its high accuracy with finite element analysis and skin-mimicking phantoms. Finally, the technique is applied to measure the forearm skin of healthy volunteers. The Young's modulus of the epidermis (including the stratum corneum) is measured to be $\sim$ 4 MPa at 4-10 kHz, whereas Young's moduli of the dermis and hypodermis are about 40 and 15 kPa, respectively, at 0.2-1 kHz. Besides dermatologic applications, this method may be useful for the mechanical analysis of various other layered tissues with sub-mm depth resolution.