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Monday, December 27, 2021

Review: The Remarkable Life of the Skin

 I read The Remarkable Life of the Skin during a sailing trip in the Caribbean, which made the early chapters on how tanning and melanin work really resonate with me:

Overnight, keratinocytes proliferate rapidly, preparing and protecting our outer barrier for the sunlight and scratches of the coming day. During the day, these cells then selectively switch on genes involved with protection against the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. A 2017 study took this one step further and found, rather remarkably, that midnight feasts could actually cause sunburn.14 If we eat late at night, our skin’s clock assumes that it must be dinner time and consequently pushes back the activation of the morning-UV-protection genes, leaving us more exposed the next day. So while studies are increasingly showing that a lack of sleep is detrimental to our overall physical and mental health, it now seems that our skin also benefits from additional sleep. (page 9)

 The next few chapters describe how amazing the skin is, including how it's carefully acidic for a particular reason:

The acids in sebum also keep the surface of the skin slightly acidic (between a pH of 4.5 and 6), which deters potentially dangerous bacteria, while those that adapt to this environment will be consequently less able to thrive if they manage to get past the skin and infect the alkaline environment of the blood. (pg. 13)

This is followed by chapters on touch, how skin recovers from wounds and activate the immune system, and even how tattoes work:

 The most impressive feature of Meissner corpuscles is that they literally catch us every time we fall. As you hold the key, it actually slips a thousandth of a millimetre a number of times a second. Our Meissner corpuscles can detect this loss and, in a series of rapid reflexes, cause our skin to tighten so that we don’t end up dropping the object. All of this is completely subconscious. (pg. 113)

 We essentially create an infinite infection. So if you sport a tattoo, spare a thought for the little fellows who went into battle thinking they were fighting an infection but were instead fated to spend the rest of their days embedded in your skin-based art. (pg. 176)

There are also entire chapters on skin diseases, including exotic ones like leprosy and river blindness, which I didn't realize was a skin disease as well. The social implications of skin coloring (such as albinism, not just race) are also covered, and in well-written fashion. After reading this book I took Bowen to the pediatrician where she told him his skin was so dry that he needed moisturizer twice a day. The knowledge in the book prepared me to treat her recommendations seriously (eczema is no joke and can lead to infection).  The book was therefore well worth my time.

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