The Body's Edge: Our Cultural Obsession With Skin

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9780805042085: The Body's Edge: Our Cultural Obsession With Skin
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Our skin covers us in a mantle no thicker than this line of type, separating us from the outside by the thinnest of margins. It is the real and symbolic boundary between ourselves and the external world. It is there, at the body's edge, that some of the most interesting stories about human biology, mythology, medicine, and health are told, and Marc Lappe, author of several highly acclaimed science books, is the right person to tell them.
He discusses how the "newly discovered" permeability of the skin, long recognized by other cultures, has lead to the use of drug-bearing patches; how potentially harmful chemicals penetrate the skin; how vulnerable we are to particular environmental insults; and much more. For the first time, he tells the inside story of silicone injections, an ill-fated experiment of the 1960s and 1970s.
The Body's Edge is a provocative examination of how we can reinforce what the skin provides and maintain our edge against an increasingly hostile world.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

From the stratum corneum to the hypodermis, an engrossing, warts-and-all census of the body's largest organ. Making up nearly 15 percent of our body mass, the skin protects us, defines us; it even reflects our internal state of health. For as Lapp‚ (Chemical Deception, 1991, etc.), the director of the Center for Ethics and Toxic Substances (Gualala, Calif.), notes, it is the ``border between wellness and dysfunction.'' Surprisingly enough, for something so visible and apparently simple, much about the skin remains unknown. It may have its own primitive version of an immune system. The colonies of fungi and bacteria that swarm over its surface may perform important symbiotic functions for the host. Humans are one of the few animals without significant body hair, but the evolutionary reasons for this are not understood. Lapp‚'s own theory is that it was a way to free humans from the onerous, time-consuming chore of grooming themselves in search of lice, mites, etc. Of course, given that Americans spend six to ten percent of their disposable income on cosmetic products (many of which are completely ineffectual), the actual time saved may be minimal. Certainly, without skin, complex life forms could not have evolved. Unfortunately, complex life forms have a bad record of looking after their skin. In the Middle Ages, arsenic was popularly used as a rouge, while lead powder was employed as a whitener. More recently, despite clear experimental findings of its potential hazards, according to Lapp‚, silicone was widely used in cosmetic surgery. Lapp‚ also bluntly chronicles the many dangers of sun exposure (current suntan lotions may not block certain hazardous rays), which we ignore at our peril as the ozone layer thins. Lapp‚'s account is not as well organized and structured as it should be, and he occasionally lapses into convoluted science- speak. But he has succeeded in taking a subject that usually receives only skin-deep attention and making it both engaging and provocative. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Unlike ancient cultures that prized the wrinkled faces of the elderly, we worship supermodels' smooth, expressionless skin and spend billions on cosmetics to achieve a youthful look. The human skin-its anatomy, physiology, diseases, racial connotations, its physical and symbolic role as our boundary with the outer world-is the subject of this involving, often eloquent study by science writer Lappe (Chemical Deception: The Toxic Threat to Health and the Environment). Considered a mirror of inner wellness in traditional Chinese medicine, and a vulnerable shield or a trophy in Greek mythology, the skin is today increasingly recognized as a permeable system, and recent research suggests that it has its own built-in, autonomous immune defenses. Lappe chronicles skin diseases from smallpox in ancient Egypt to modern epidemics of skin cancer, acne, vitiligo and psoriasis. He documents the hazards of silicone injections, ultraviolet lamps, excessive suntanning and chemicals in factories and farms, and alerts us to the potential dangers of cosmetic products such as soaps, lotions, moisturizers and skin tighteners. Foreign rights: Frances Collin Literary Agency.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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