I always find it interesting to reflect on the moments that stick with us. Especially when the memories seemingly come outta nowhere. For instance, earlier today, I was applying some lotion to my hands, and it made me think back to my massage school days when I learned about skin.
Until then, skin wasn’t really something I ever thought about. But as a licensed massage therapist, learning about skin is just as crucial as our muscles. It also surprised me the most out of everything I was taught about the body during that time. So, I decided to see if we’ve learned anything new since my massage days. Guess what, we have!
Our Skin Cells Talk to Each Other
Have you ever heard of quorum sensing? It was first discovered in bioluminescent bacteria in the 1960s. Simply put, it’s the name of the chemical communication bacteria use. It’s thought bees and ants use it too.
See, single-celled bacteria emit a chemical that other bacteria can sense when they’re nearby. If there are only a few bacteria in the area, then nothing much happens. But when there’s a crowd, they gather to coordinate an action—like forming an attack or glowing.
A few years later, scientists discovered quorum sensing appears to occur between bacteria and the cells in the lining of our intestines, too. But what’s really surprising is it happens not just in our guts but our skin cells too. And they don’t just talk to bacteria but to each other.
For the study, researchers at the University of Southern California used mice. After putting them under anesthesia, they plucked 200 hairs within a confined area and in a specific pattern. You might think an equal or lesser number of hair follicles would regrow, right? That’s what I assumed anyway. But I was wrong.
More than 1,000 hairs sprouted to take the place of the missing 200. Some grew even beyond the plucked region. The exciting thing is that regeneration only happens within a specified diameter. According to the study, “If the plucking pattern exceeded six millimeters in diameter, hairs did not regenerate at all—even after 30 days.”
Why does this happen? They believe the damaged skin cells used quorum sensing to alert cells nearby. Once enough cells in the area signaled distress, “sensors on the skin detected the messages and took collective action: Incredibly, those messages induced the regeneration of as much as five times the amount of replacement hair.”
A Newly Discovered Organ is Changing the Game of Pain
Speaking of cells, during an experiment in 2019, researchers discovered a new two-celled organ located between our skin’s epidermal and dermal borders. Think about that—an organ within an organ! Wild.
Before, it was thought that pain was caused by stimulating raw and unprotected nerve endings in our skin. Well, it turns out, these nerves aren’t as exposed as we thought. This newly recognized “meshy” organ, made of Schwann cells, protects the ends of the nerves in our skin, and “it senses dangerous environmental stimuli.” It’s also “required for initiation of mechanical pain transduction.”
Meaning, this new organ plays a vital role in our ability to sense harmful stimuli—like extreme heat for example. Once it senses anything harmful, it alerts the nerves which then notifies the brain.
So, theoretically speaking, this could imply that perhaps our nerves don’t “feel” pain the way we thought. Maybe, this newly discovered organ is responsible for the sensation of pain. If that’s true, it changes everything we thought we knew about pain and, therefore, pain management. Wouldn’t it?
What we learned here today is just the tip of the iceberg of what I discovered about skin during my research. (Like, guess what, our skin helps us hear!) But I don’t want to keep you here all day, so I’ll tell you the rest in Curious Life Monday morning.
Skin might seem like a mundane topic at first, but sometimes the ordinary can be mystical. Our skin is always there. We’re literally wrapped in it from head to toe. But how often do we consider, really, how amazing it is—right down to a cellular level. Never underestimate the small—the tiniest things can change everything.
Our largest organ is our skin. It protects us, absorbs nutrients, and literally holds us together. Now we know it’s so much more. The cells in your skin communicate, and apparently, a previously unknown organ exists snuggled between the layers. I don’t know about you, but now I want to take extra care of my skin. Maybe I’ll up the ante of my skincare routine to keep it extra happy.
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