What Your Skin Reveals

The skin is a rich source of information about what we're thinking and feeling—no touch required.

By Joe Navarro, published March 11, 2013 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The skin responds to emotions very quickly. When we lovingly care for someone, our skin, which is very vascular, responds through vasodilation, which makes the skin feel warm, soft, and pliable. The warmth can often be detected, even without touching, when we are in close proximity to those who truly care for us. This change is also why we can tell when a kiss is indifferent (cold, rigid) or heavenly (warm, soft, tender). In social settings, the skin flushes when a person becomes flummoxed or embarrassed, or has been caught doing something he shouldn't. In a forensic setting, sweat communicates a great deal—it can tip off investigators that they have hit a hot issue during an interview. Though inconclusive evidence of deception, it may indicate guilty knowledge or worse. Similarly, a suspect may pull clothing away from the skin at the neck, shoulders, or front of the shirt when something is bothering her and her skin suddenly becomes warm from stress due to fear or apprehension. In reaction to strong negative emotions, threats, or danger, the body sends blood to larger muscles in case they are needed for running or fighting. This withdrawal of blood causes the skin to feel cold—and may also cause goose bumps to appear. The skin can also drain of color (turn gray, ashen, and pale) when a person is in shock or suddenly receives bad news, which gives us immediate insight into what is going on inside his or her mind, often more accurately than the spoken word could.