As estheticians we touch skin all day long. During a facial we clean it, exfoliate it, nourish it, soothe it, stimulate it, hydrate it and sometimes if waxing, rip hairs out of it!
But how well do you understand the mechanisms behind the sensations you cause? By deepening your understanding of the skin and its nerve endings can give you a greater awareness and appreciation of how you touch it.
The sense of touch is quite unique because unlike the other senses which have specific organs, touch and sensation is felt all over the body because the sense receptors are housed within the skin. This sense helps us avoid pain and drastic temperature changes, experience pleasurable sensations, navigate through space, perceive objects we manipulate and sometimes help to substitute for our other senses.
We could consider the skin as an exposed portion of the nervous system or an external nervous system. Touch can have strong effects on our bodies, because when the skin is touched, that stimulation is quickly transmitted to the brain, which in turn regulates our bodies.
The skin and the nervous system arise from the same embryonic layer, the ectoderm, which is the outermost of three cell layers. Touch is the earliest sensory system to develop in all animal species. When a human embryo is less than an inch long and less than 2 months old, the skin is already highly developed.
Even though the sense of touch is the first sense to develop it stays with us long after eyesight and hearing start to fade.
Our bodies have more than 18 square feet of skin, making our skin the largest sense organ of the body. Our sense of touch is made up of cutaneous receptors and fall into 3 main categories; mechanoreceptors, nociceptors and thermoreceptors.
Mechanoreceptors as the name suggests are also tactile receptors and respond to touch, pressure and vibration. Nociceptors, noci means pain in Latin, respond to pain. Thermoreceptors respond to temperature.
The specific nerve endings that fall into one or more of the above categories are;
Free nerve endings are found in the epidermis and wrapped around hair follicles and because they are so close to the surface detect the lightest of sensation. Try it now, touch one tiny hair on the back of your hand or arm and your brain will register the sensation. They also detect pain, and temperature.
Hair root plexus are similar to the free nerve endings and wrap around hair follicles.
Merkel’s Discs with the disc like nerve endings are also found in the deeper epidermis detect light touch.
Meissner’s Corpuscles with egg shaped receptors are found in the dermal papilla, just below epidermis. Most numerous in fingertips, palms of hands, soles of feet. Eyelids, lips and tip of tongue. These areas are very sensitive to light touch.
Ruffini endings are deeper in the dermis and detect heavier pressure and continuous touch.
Pacinian Corpuscles respond to deeper pressure as they are found in the subcutaneous layer. Krause End Bulbs detect cold temperatures.
Next time you touch your client stay mindful of the nerve endings you may be stimulating and whether the sensations you’re creating are as pleasurable as possible!