The Hidden Brain in Your Skin: Claudia Aguirre (Transcript)

Full text of neuroscientist Claudia Aguirre’s talk: The Hidden Brain in Your Skin at TEDxUCLA conference.


Claudia Aguirre – Neuroscientist, Skincare Expert, Spokesperson and Lecturer

So, take a look at these behaviors: Does Math… Gets High… Gets Stressed Out… And Rocks Out To Music… What’s the first that comes to mind? Does it sound like – I heard “college,” yeah.

I was thinking more of a teenager. It does sound like a teenager. But what if I told you that your skin — take a look at it, that very colorful sheath covering your body — that your skin can perform all of these behaviors.

Now, before I give you the “skinny” on the teenage-like behavior of skin, I want to show you how I got to examining the radical behavior of skin.

It started during the economic recession, which is where I found myself in my first job — an unlikely time for a first job.

So how did this happen?

Well, there was an alarming trend: There was a rise in skin sensitivity. And that meant more people in the dermatologists’ office and more people in the facialists’ chair.

And there was a rise in skin conditions like inflammatory conditions, like eczema and psoriasis. And we didn’t know exactly why, but a lot of people in the industry thought maybe it was the rise in stress; maybe it was a lifestyle thing; maybe it was pollution.

But I wanted to know how. So when I started working in the skincare industry, I asked myself: How does something as globally extreme like the economy, how does that translate to something like a skin rash?

You see, I’m a neuroscientist, and in studying the skin, I found that there was just as much neuroscience in studying the skin as there was in studying the brain. And that was actually surprising to me.

So I want to show you some stories today that are going to explain how this connection between the mind and body interact and hopefully surprise you with some of the ideas that came about in understanding the connection between the brain and the skin.

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So I want to share with you first some examples of the curious ways in which our minds are represented on our exterior.

This is Jack. Jack is a veteran pilot. He has been through it all. He’s been through wind gusts and locked landing gear. He can keep his cool in just about any situation.

But every time he flies over a particular canyon, his forehead breaks out in herpes blisters, every single time he flies over that canyon. Naturally, he goes to the doctor, gets a medicine, and it treats his symptoms, but it just keeps coming back every time he flies over that canyon.

And this is Sophie. Sophie is a senior in high school, and she’s a dancer. And, of course, as any senior in high school, she’s trying to decide what she’s going to do with her life:

“Am I going to go to college?”

“Will I continue to dance?”

“Will I dance in college?”

“What college am I going to go to?”

So as she battles with her indecision, she develops a wart on the bottom of her foot. Of course, like Jack, she goes to try to get some medical treatment, and it does treat the symptoms here and there, but it always comes back. She can’t get rid of this wart. And in the end, the wart makes the decision for her. She can no longer pursue dancing because of the pain in her foot.

And this is Danny. Danny is ten years old, and he was born with eczema, so he was used to the medications, he was used to the rashes that came and went, but the medications always kept his skin rashes at bay.

But one day, they stopped working. The medicine was no longer good. The medicine stopped working the day his mother tragically died in a car accident.

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