Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Would you change the colour of your skin?

During a discussion with another author on skin colour, she happened to mention the blue people of Kentucky to me. I'd never heard of them before, so I rushed to Wikipedia to look them up. And there they were! Seriously, this isn't a joke.

They suffer from a rare genetically inherited condition called Methemoglobinemia characterized by a higher percentage of methemoglobin in the blood - an oxidised form of hemoglobin - causing tissue hypoxia. Basically, less oxygen gets to the tissues so they turn blue, just as you would if you were suffocating. Certain drugs can also cause 'acquired methemoglobinemia', and the classic 'blue-baby' syndrome is caused by nitrates ingested in tap water.

Argyria sufferers - taken from Wikipedia
There's also a condition called Argyria caused by excessive exposure to silver, which affects humans and animals as silver is accumulated in the body over time. Because of the low toxicity of silver and its related compounds, the condition is considered 'cosmetically undesirable' rather than medically threatening. With my hero in Keir being blue-skinned, the whole subject fascinated me. The idea of him being blue came from the alien entity in his ancestry, but now it seemed the idea of blue skin wasn't such an alien one. It happens!

But blue skin isn't the only odd colour change for humans. Carotenosis is a more common one - or one perhaps more well-known - where the excessive intake of carrots (or other vegetables containing the pigment carotene) turns the skin orange. It occurs most often in vegetarians and younger children, and is more noticeable in those with fair skin. It's a benign condition but one likely to draw attention!

Carotenoderma of the nose - taken from Wikipedia

Of course, you can brown your skin by tanning in the sun, or by using spray tans. Unless, like me, you're white-skinned and redhaired, burning at the mere touch of a summer sunbeam. But scientists are now looking at the possibility of taking a pill or smearing on a cream to naturally turn your skin darker, or even lighter if you wish it. Skin, hair and eye colour are mostly determined by the pigment melanin. Scientists have been working on a way to chemically stimulate melanin production in the skin of mice to give them natural protection from the sun. The same technique could also be used to lighten skin, and potentially hair and eye colour. All with far less mess than using dyes. Perhaps in the future we might even see a pill that could turn your brown eyes blue. :-P

Or maybe we'll find a way to transplant the chromatophores that allow chameleons to change their colour into our own skins, changing it at will or to match our mood. Would you like the ability to change your appearance with a thought? Or might it lead to public embarrassment if the colour change revealed your secret feelings for someone in public? No more guessing if that man across the room is giving you the eye or has noticed that your skirt is tucked in your knickers. Passion and hate shown by a single, simple colour change.

And if we could change the colour of our skin to show our true feelings, would we give up wearing clothing? Who needs that little black dress when we can change our skin to every colour of the rainbow. How might our language change? Would we give up speech and communicate in colour?

So what colour would you like to be today?


  1. Aren't the blue people of Kentucky fascinating? If the X-FILES were still on, they'd probably have an episode about them. Very eerie condition, to say the least.

    Makes me wonder what else we have yet to discover in this world...

    1. Lol, and Mulder would put it down to alien interaction while Scully stands there, hands on hips, explaining the genetics. :P
      The silver one fascinated me. I worked with metals in a chemistry lab, and I'm curious as to how much silver it would take to turn blue...engage mad scientist mode...

  2. I would love to be silver or gold skinned. I think that would look awesome, and I may just use that idea . . . (LOL). Great post!

    1. I read Machine by Jennifer Pelland, and the MC had been transferred to e perfect android replication of her human body. As time progressed, she felt she should look more like the machine she was rather than the fake human she felt herself to be, and she had her skin turned gold. And I have my biomechanoid Mercury, with her silver skin and hair. I'd love to have tattoos that change color.

  3. I think I'd stick with natural tone...just tanner. LOL

    Fascinating about the Blue Kentuckians. I think I mentioned to you the legend of the Blue cave people who once turned up in France, also.

  4. Fascinating post, Pippa.
    I'd take the pill to have browner skin - it makes me look better! I did once try a spray tan booth with disastrous results - related in my book Digging Deeper. Never again!

  5. @Laurie - yes you did, and I never got around to looking them up!
    @Barbara - I'd also take the tanning pill. I'm a little tired of being white skinned and burning the first day we have sun. A nice golden brown colour - and no more sun burn - would make me very happy.

  6. Oooh, tats that change color? That would be AWESOME! And as one of those idiots that fried in the sun under a coating of baby oil back in my teen years seeking the perfect tan (and paid with skin cancer years later), yes, I'd take one order of golden brown, please.

  7. Ouch, Donna!
    I do everything I can to stay out of the sun, and slap SPF50 on myself and the kids.

  8. @Donna I grew up on a lake and lived in a bikini and Coppertone all summer. Though I tended to burn first, I'd eventually develop very dark tans. And yes, I also fried in Baby Oil on more than one occasion. It was considered a shortcut to a dark tan and not a shortcut to cancer in those days. It wasn't until much later I learned the damage I might be doing to my skin.

    We're a whole lot more careful about exposure today that we were in the 60 and 70s.

    @Barbara I remember that scene in Digging Deeper. Laughed so hard I cried. I've only had a few encounters with spray tanning booths--they can be pretty scary monstrosities for the uninitiated!--because I have concerns about the chemicals being sprayed on my skin. There's some new concern about sunscreen now. Studies show some of the chemicals get into our bloodstream and could also cause cancer or health problems.

    @Pippa Your question inspired an idea for me. What if we had the technology to create an artificial outer layer of skin to protect us from UV rays? It could be any color or carry any tattoo, design or pattern we selected--and mask what we really look like underneath. Beauty is but skin deep, indeed. Hmmm....

  9. I think I was lucky in one respect - being redhaired and white skinned my parents took care to keep me covered in sun cream most of the time. I was never going to tan.
    And custom designing a fake skin? Sounds cool. I have to say I did have your 'invisibility' suits from P2PC slightly in mind as I wrote the post - and I've just been reading Greta's Starheart which has an invisibility suit that matches backgounds. How about something you could just spray on?

  10. mean the 'shadow skins.' Didn't even think of those!

    My suits are similar to Greta's concept except they don't match the background, they simple erase the person's image by being constructed in a null material the human retina can't detect. :)

  11. That's the ones.
    I've only just gotten to that part of Greta's book.


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