Skin Deep

Three skin mysteries solved

The skin is the largest organ of the body, so it’s no wonder that we have a question or two from time to time. I’m not talking about rare rashes or diseases, but rather every day occurrences that make you think, Why does this happen?

Here, I’ll delve into a few of the most common “skin mysteries” I’m asked about, and if you help spread the word, they won’t be mysteries anymore!

Why am I addicted to lip balm?

This is a good one, but let it be known that this has yet to be confirmed as a true addiction. Although there’s no scientific research that has identified why we feel compelled to apply lip balm over and over again, I believe it’s due to the anatomy of the lips. All skin—except the lips—has a top protective layer called the stratum corneum, which helps keep moisture in the skin.

Because our lips lack this barrier, water evaporates easily, so lips feel dry once again. Couple this with the instant relief you’ve come accustomed to getting with a light swipe of balm, and that’s why you’re reaching for that little tube or jar multiple times a day.

Why do my fingers and toes get pruny?

Kids in particular love this skin mystery, and they never tire of showing off their wrinkly fingers and toes after a long swim or bath. This skin mystery is also related to the skin barrier. The skin on the fingers and toes contains different types of fatty acids than the other skin on the body, and these small areas allow water to penetrate the skin better.

Scientists are still unsure why the fatty acids are different, but I believe it’s for a sensory reason, perhaps so we can maintain our sense of touch when our fingers are wet.

What causes me to blush?

When we get embarrassed, our fight-or-flight response kicks in. When adrenaline is released, it has myriad effects on the body—including causing blood vessels to dilate so your body can get more blow flow and oxygen. When the blood vessels on your face dilate, it causes blushing.

This kind of blushing is different than the flushing associated with rosacea. Rosacea is a chronic skin condition that is triggered by environmental factors like UV exposure, extreme weather, spicy foods, alcohol and stress. These insults cause inflammation that causes surface blood vessels to dilate, leading tovisible redness. Rosacea is also different than normal blushing because rosacea is often accompanied by acne-like lesions.

Dr. Leslie Baumann is a board-certified dermatologist, New York Times best-selling author and CEO of Baumann Cosmetic & Research Institute in Miami.

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