Written by Stephanie Sutton, M.D. –

The New Year is upon us. 2021 has arrived. We have said goodbye to 2020, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is still in our midst. Vaccines have been starting to roll out, but the general population is still not vaccinated and won’t be for months. The measures of social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands are still important.

2020 has been a complicated year for society on many levels due to the pandemic. One level includes the decrease of human touch and physical interaction. Instead of greeting friends and extended family members with big hugs, we have been keeping our distance of 6 feet apart and doing elbow bumps. Instead of big, toothy smiles, we have been “smiling with our eyes” over the masks.

“Skin hunger” is a term describing the desire for human touch. Not only is the skin our largest organ, but it is a sensory organ. The skin contains sensory nerve endings that receive information about temperature, pressure, touch, etc. and send it to our brain. Our brain releases oxytocin when we receive positive human touch such as hugs. We can also experience lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and lower cortisol levels with positive human touch.

The fact that people have been longing for hugs, embraces, handshakes, and walking arm in arm gives us a special understanding of human interactions and society. I am pleased this is something we are noticeably missing and not something we can do without. Let’s look forward to it improving in the future and let’s be aware of those who might be suffering from skin hunger such as grandparents, people living alone, etc. and find other ways to support them and show affection.

Stephanie Sutton, MD, is a contributing author to the Sutton Dermatology Blog. Stephanie Sutton is a psychiatrist and she focuses on wellness.

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