SPECIAL REPORT SKIN

Clothes and the body

Laboratory cultured human skin; This cross-section shows the three layers, from lowest to uppermost: the basal layer which produces new cells, the living mucous layer in which cells accumulate keratin and the corneal layer of dead cells. Magnification 600x. © Inserm/L.Dubertret
Laboratory cultured human skin; This cross-section shows the three layers, from lowest to uppermost: the basal layer which produces new cells, the living mucous layer in which cells accumulate keratin and the corneal layer of dead cells. Magnification 600x. © Inserm/L.Dubertret

Legend has it that bathing in donkey's milk, the merits of which are still vaunted today, was the secret of Cleopatra's splendid skin. 2000 years later, cosmetology laboratories are still trying to find the miracle product to make the human skin soft and shiny. And not without a few eloquent ‘misses' along the way: much favoured by Queen Elizabeth I, lead-based Spirit of Saturn was once widely used as a skin whitener. More recently, cosmetologists of the 1930s proposed applying a radium-based pomade to obtain a ‘radiant' hue. With its many colours and delicate shading, the skin remains one of the principal vectors of human beauty. But this inevitable victim of passing time is also the largest organ of the human body. A stratified structure of around 200 000 nerve endings and a formidable self-regenerating capacity make it one of the most complex too. Frequently subject to excessive external and internal pressures, the skin, the first bulwark of our body, has its limits. In Europe, allergies are constantly rising, triggered by multiple factors including diet, pollution and stress. Light-induced cancers are set to become some of the most lethal. And serious skin diseases which have long disappeared from our part of the world continue to ravage developing countries. While the relative importance of keeping one's skin young and keeping it healthy differs in various parts of the globe, collaboration between public and private bodies on specific projects can sometimes come up with very promising discoveries.


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