Book choice: The Remarkable Life of the Skin

Review by Dr Greg Dollman

Remarkable Life of the SkinBy Monty Lyman

Transworld, hardback, £25.00, 2019

Review by Dr Greg Dollman, Insight Primary editor

I FELT a sense of irony while reading The Remarkable Life of the Skin during the COVID-19 lockdown. Dr Lyman provides a fascinating account of our body lining, describing his book as “an intimate journey across our surface”. He writes about how we exchange microbes when shaking hands and playing contact sports or even sharing a crowded train carriage; the significance of human touch (which “is necessary for good physical and emotional health”); and the importance of those around us as we try to comprehend “our journey from sensing to feeling” (consider, for example, our inability to self-tickle).

Lyman’s book describes the clear link between our physical being and our mental wellbeing, which is an important message in this unusual time.

His writing made me wonder how our skin surfaces may have changed in the months of social distancing and self-isolation.

A good starting point when pondering any question about this often overlooked organ is to refresh our knowledge of the anatomy and physiology of the skin, in a chapter entitled ‘The Swiss Army Organ’. Lyman reminds us about the slickness, compactness and utility of our covering.

And the inevitable question arises: where does the skin end and the body begin? Well, that seems to be up for debate.

The wonder and beauty of the skin is deeper than the epidermis and dermis we learnt about in histology lectures. Lyman details, for example, kangaroo care. Skin-to-skin touching (like hugging) stimulates our nervous system and produces ‘feel-good’ hormones that reduce stress, improve wellbeing and boost our immune system.

Lyman explores the connection between our outside layer and the outside world, explaining how sunshine and light can be both good and bad for us, and how our “skin safari” commensals keep us well and can make us sick.

Our skin makes us who we are, and influences how the world interacts with us.