8
emotions, sex, and skin

Some of the day-to-day changes in our skin are slow and invisible: old skin is replaced, melanin is produced, vitamin D is formed. Other changes, however, particularly those that reflect our emotional state, are sudden, highly visible, and palpable. Our skin often “thinks” before we do. It can react to a stimulus, leaving us with goosebumps, sweaty palms, or red faces, even before we can identify the cause.

Human skin contains a vast network of nerves, including sympathetic nerve fibers, which belong to the autonomic nervous system.1 The job of this system is to maintain the body’s internal environment by controlling such “automatic” functions as breathing, circulation, and digestion. In particular, the sympathetic nerves are responsible for the “fight or flight” reaction in the face of stress. When we experience fear, they respond quickly and dramatically, increasing the heart’s output and diverting blood from our skin and gut to our skeletal muscles. By rapidly channeling the body’s resources to those organs necessary for confrontation or escape, the sympathetic nervous system literally can “save our skin.” As these nerve fibers

-112-

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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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