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Skin and the Brain: Uncovering New Links

By: Claudia C. Aguirre and Annet King
Posted: September 28, 2012, from the October 2012 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
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Skin care professionals often view human skin as a second, silent voice. Skin speaks. Skin tells a great deal about the person inside it. As skin care professionals, it is your job to learn the language of the skin: Read it, hear it, interpret it and respond to it.

All professionals who touch human skin must become experts in sensing energetic messages. You must become empathetic, feeling what your clients feel. This aspect of the skin care profession is often mocked with words, such as “touchy-feely” and “warm and fuzzy.” If these are criticisms, you should accept them with open arms.

Today’s society is correctly described as touch-deprived. Three decades ago, John Naisbitt, author of Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives (Grand Central Publishing, 1988), warned about the need for “high-touch” to offset the loneliness of the coming digital revolution and today, Faith Popcorn and other social analysts echo this concern. A century earlier, Victorian pediatricians noted what they called a “failure to thrive” among infants raised in state-run orphanages. The children were, to quote the song in the film Mary Poppins, scrubbed and tubbed and adequately fed, but they were not cuddled or held.

Some people with certain neurological conditions, such as autism, as well as those experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or other disorders, cannot stand to be touched. Clinicians of every discipline agree that the lack of skin-on-skin interaction intensifies their dysfunction. Although few suffer to this extreme, the widespread cultural lack of touch in a casual, social sense contributes to a sense of alienation and resultant stress, depression and an array of psycho-emotional disorders. This is a large reason why many clients visit skin care professionals—for an hour of the warm skin-on-skin contact they aren’t getting elsewhere.

Energetic and empathetic

Skin care professionals and massage therapists represent two of the few remaining professions on Earth where practitioners can touch the skin of clients. They devote many hours of study to the structure and function of the skin, conditions that affect the skin, actual skin diseases and, of course, the evolving spectrum of potential therapies and treatments. However, much of what makes you passionate about your work—and what therefore makes you successful in your business—is not clinically based. It is energetic and empathic.