What are applications of microspheres? What are they used for? Due to the unique properties of these engineered materials, applications of microspheres have grown significantly over the years.  There are so many types of microspheres that are suitable for a wide variety of applications ranging from construction industry to biotechnology, medical devices, diagnostics, instrumentation, optics, geology, environmental studies, veterinary science, medicine, and more.

Applications of Microspheres in Composite Industry

Applications of Microspheres - Flotation Devices
Photo by August Politis on Unsplash

The composites industry is an application of microspheres that consumes the greatest amount by volume. Many of these microspheres are lightweight hollow glass or ceramic spheres that are added to binder material to create products with the lowest possible weight.

Integration of microspheres into composite parts increases the ease of applications and mixing. The ball-bearing effect improves flow and lowers the viscosity of resin mixes, which significantly simplifies processability, resulting in easier machinability, faster cycle times and cost savings. The smooth, spherical shape of microspheres allows even dispersion and packing efficiency. Microspheres can be used in most processing methods for thermoset and thermoplastic polymers such as extrusion and injection molding. They blend easily into compounds, which makes them adaptable to a variety of production processes, including spraying and casting.

Hollow glass microspheres provide weight reduction and resin extension in aerospace, automotive, construction, explosive, marine, coating, abrasive, film industry and sporting goods applications.

Flotation Devices and Underwater Vessels

Microspheres are widely used in the fiber-reinforced polyester industry to improve the manufacturing process for shower stalls, boats, some types of flotation devices and underwater vessels, offering the benefits of deep-sea buoyancy and subsea thermal insulation. Syntactic pipe insulation and buoyancy foams made with hollow microspheres are used in a growing number of deep-water recovery programs.

Automotive, Building, Marine and Aerospace

The automotive, building, marine and aerospace industries require the lowest possible weight for materials. The makers of syntactic foams require the controlled, closed cells that only microspheres can offer.  Due to their physical characteristics, most microspheres are extremely good insulators, reflect and dissipate heat very effectively, and are also fire resistant. As a result, many fire-retardant materials and roof coatings are made using ceramic or glass microspheres. Microspheres are also used in acoustic/dielectric sensors and aerospace adhesives.

Oil and Gas

Microspheres are used in oil and gas production as an additive for lightweight cement slurries and allow reduction of cement slurry density without increasing the water content.

Paints and Coatings

Coatings containing microspheres are stronger and more durable than other coatings. Because hollow spheres lower the density of materials to which they are added, a gallon of paint or coating made with hollow microspheres will weigh less than the same product
made without them. Lower-density coatings are cheaper to produce and ship and easier to carry up ladders. Next-generation microspheres used in paint and coating applications enhance weatherability and durability of components and finished products.

Applications of Microspheres in Cosmetics and Personal Care Industry

Applications of Microspheres in Cosmetics
Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash

A wide range of microspheres is manufactured for use in the cosmetic industry. Because of their size and shape, cosmetic microspheres offer enhanced sensory properties for a broad range of applications.

Cosmetic microspheres are perfectly spherical, completely solid, between 10 and 1000microns in diameter, and can be loaded with up to 40% by weight of pigments and additives. In addition they can be manufactured with a positive or negative surface charge.

Anti-Aging Effect

Microspheres are able to scatter light to diminish the look of fine lines on the skin, creating an effect known as soft focus or optical blurring.

Excellent sphericity and tight particle size of microspheres will minimize the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by both filling them and scattering light, creating a soft focus effect.

Ball-bearing Effect

Sphericity and particle size uniformity are responsible for the ball-bearing effect in creams and lotions, which imparts the finished product with a silky elegant texture, luxury feel, enhanced slip, glide and omnidirectional spreadability providing a “cream to powder” texture. Outstanding roundness also provides lubrication during application. The exceptional smoothness of microspheres dramatically enhances the tactile experience of a cosmetic product. This ball-bearing effect promotes better blending on the skin and results in a more natural finish.

Hiding Power

An opaque microsphere does not allow any light to pass through which means every single particle has maximum hiding power. Our microspheres provide superior coverage with one invisible and feather-light layer – revolutionizing make-up products.

What is opacity and how is opacity measured: When light strikes an interface between two substances, in general some may be reflected, some absorbed, some scattered, and the rest transmitted. An opaque substance transmits very little light, and therefore reflects, scatters, or absorbs most of it. High level of opacity becomes more difficult to achieve for microscopic particles.

Exfoliating Agents

Superior roundness and smoothness of microspheres makes them very gentle and effective exfoliating agents to unclog pores and exfoliate dead cells. Round particles has been shown in clinical studies to be less irritating to the skin than irregularly shaped conventional exfoliants with sharp edges, such as apricot kernels and walnut shells.

Applications of Microspheres in Medicine

Applications of Microspheres in Medicine
Photo by Olga Guryanova on Unsplash

Due to recent improvements in quality and functionality, microspheres are now widely used in medical diagnostics as reagents of diagnostic devices, injectable biomaterial, tissue filler and drug delivery vehicles. Microspheres are also used as tracers and challenge particles. Colored microspheres are typically used in testing of filtration media and systems, vial and container cleaning evaluations, flow tracing and fluid mechanics, centrifugation and sedimentation processes, pharmaceutical manufacturing and contamination control.

Fluorescent microspheres are recommended for applications such as microcirculation and biological research, imaging and flow cytometry, which require the use of particles that emit distinctive colors when illuminated by ultraviolet (UV) light and offer additional sensitivity for observation using microscopes, lasers and other analytical devices.

Applications of microspheres as injectable biomaterial has become more and more popular over the last few decades due to recent developments that have improved quality and functionality. In order to be suitable for clinical or in vivo use, microspheres must be biocompatible, safe and stable, display desired functionality inside patients, and demonstrate desired and predictable degradation properties. These parameters are determined by the raw materials used to manufacture microspheres. Surface treatment of microspheres can also be used to achieve specific functionality and the desired response within surrounding tissue.

Polymer microspheres, in particular, injectable polymer particles with a diameter in the range of 30 to 300 microns, are becoming widely used as biomaterial in clinical fields such as cosmetic surgery, reconstructive surgery and urology. Microspheres have a controlled shape and size and behave very predictably during injection. The spherical shape of microspheres offers a significant advantage over nonspherical particles suspended in a carrier fluid, which tend to aggregate, making injection difficult and impractical.

Embolotherapy is an example of a targeted, minimally invasive treatment that works by reducing blood flow to targeted areas of the body. The procedure is performed by injecting microspheres through a catheter into the blood vessels that feed these targeted areas. By selectively blocking the targeted tissue’s blood supply, the deprived tissue will either be destroyed or become devitalized, resulting in therapeutic benefits.

One of the fastest growing applications of microspheres in brachytherapy is direct infusion of irradiated microspheres to treat liver cancer. Many liver cancers occur secondary to other primary cancers, including colorectal cancer, lung cancer and breast cancer that metastasize to the liver. The dose of radiation from the irradiated microspheres in conjunction with their proximity to the tumor destroys the tumor and preserves healthy liver tissue. Microspheres enable a more pinpointed delivery of radiation to liver tumors than other radiotherapy techniques, making it more effective. This procedure is accepted globally as an effective treatment for patients with inoperable liver cancer as it preserves adequate liver function.

Applications of Microspheres in Life Sciences

Applications of Microspheres in Life Sciences
Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

The life sciences industry includes companies in the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, biomedical technologies, life systems technologies, nutraceuticals, environmental health and biomedical devices and organizations involved in the various stages of research, development, technology transfer and commercialization. Drug discovery, clinical diagnostics and biomedical research markets rely heavily on the use of microspheres.

Microspheres are used in the life sciences industry primarily in tools and as consumables in drug discovery and development, clinical diagnostics and biomedical research.

Key applications of microspheres in life sciences applications include the following:

  • Fluorescent, colored or luminescent labels for detection
  • Capture reagents for lateral flow immunoassays
  • Calibrators for flow cytometry, microarray analysis, microscopy, automated imaging and other instruments or assays
  • Platform for monitoring coagulation by light scattering
  • Surfaces for immunoprecipitation
  • Tracers for fluid flow (including blood flow) or air flow
  • Tools for automated sample preparation
  • Fluorescence immunoassay
  • Enzyme immunoassay (EIA)
  • Fluorescence microscopy
  • Confocal fluorescence microscopy
  • Flow cytometry/image cytometry
  • Magnetic cell separation
  • Magnetic particle EIA
  • Microfluidics
  • Cell separation
  • Magnetic particle assay development
  • Agglutination tests
  • Molecular diagnostics
  • Nucleic-acid separation
  • Lateral flow tests
  • Diagnostic assays
  • Bacteria isolation
  • Sample preparation for polymerase chain reaction (PCR)
  • Enzyme immunoassay
  • Immunopurification
  • Particle-size standards
  • Respiratory or drug delivery models for the pharmaceutical industry
  • Other research and industrial applications

Applications of Microspheres in Specialized Industries

Specialty Applications of Microspheres
Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

The industry involves a wide range of very unique and specialized applications working on initiatives from government-sponsored research projects, academic research, and new product development across a wide variety of fields and disciplines.

Microspheres are utilized for studying ecology, soil and marine life, simulating the charging of particles in physics experiments, designing instruments, observing fluid flow, testing filtration systems and membranes, microscopy and process troubleshooting, among many other applications.