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Image of the Week: Under the Skin

19 Feb, 2016
N0037927 Dermatographia

Credit: Ben Gilbert, Wellcome Images

This week, Dr Zoë Waller, an academic and Chemist who trains Pharmacy students at the University of East Anglia, tells us about how her skin condition can both be a valuable educational tool and a work of art.

Dermatographia (or to use its full term Dermatographia urticaria) is a type of rash where the skin become raised, red and itchy after being scratched. The term dermatographia actually means “skin writing” as sufferers are able to literally write on their own skin by scratching and waiting for the allergic reaction to reveal the scribbles.

This type of urticaria is quite common and in most cases the red whelts, which are caused by release of histamine, subside after about half an hour. The reaction can be prevented by taking classical anti-histamines used for allergies.

The condition is relatively harmless and can be induced by scratching. I use my condition to draw chemical structures and post them on Twitter (@InnocentWal), encouraging my students to follow the feed as an alternative way of becoming familiar with the most common drugs they are likely to encounter as practicing pharmacists and engaging them with Chemistry. This image shows the chemical structure of Loratadine drawn onto my skin, it’s a drug commonly used to treat the symptoms of dermatographia.

Brooklyn based artist Ariana Page Russell, who also suffers from dematographia, has used her own skin in her artwork.

More images can be seen in the Flickr Gallery.

Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. Over 100,000 high resolution images from our historical collections are now free to use under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence.



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