4
skin and sun

As we go about our daily lives, our skin is always active, and its complex chemistry is constantly changing. Skin cells are dividing, important molecules are being broken down, others are being repaired, and yet others are being created on the spot. Because the human lineage originated in the tropics and spent most of its six million or so years of existence in tropical areas, part of the skin’s activity has involved a series of anatomical and biochemical adaptations to heat and sunlight. Sweating is only part of the story. Our skin has also evolved other ways to mediate vital chemical transactions between the body and the environment, and particularly between the body and sunlight.

The sun emits a wide variety of electromagnetic radiation, ranging from very short-wavelength ionizing radiation such as gamma rays to very longwavelength infrared radiation and radio waves (figure 17). Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) itself includes a broad spectrum of wavelengths, from very shortwavelength vacuum UV to longer-wavelength UVC, UVB, and UVA. Although it is maligned by most biologists because of its destructive effects on bio-

-56-

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Skin: A Natural History
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations ix
  • Acknowledgments xi
  • Preface xv
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Skin Laid Bare 9
  • 2 - History 21
  • 3 - Sweat 39
  • 4 - Skin and Sun 56
  • 5 - Skin’s Dark Secret 65
  • 6 - Color 76
  • 7 - Touch 97
  • 8 - Emotions, Sex, and Skin 112
  • 9 - Wear and Tear 121
  • 10 - Statements 141
  • 11 - Future Skin 164
  • Glossary 175
  • Notes 181
  • References 217
  • Index 243
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