Sharp. Painful. Orgasmic. Comforting. Touch can be any of these things. But, it’s much more than one of the classic five senses; it’s fundamental to everything we think and feel, how we communicate and bond, and whether or not we catch a cold.
It all starts in the bottom layer of our skin. There, a series of informational conveyor belts, called Merkel cells, feed data from the skin to the body’s central nervous system. The body then responds with a surge of hormones. And, if you’re receiving the right kind of touch—as opposed to a creepy one or a punch in the nose—you'll get a dose of oxytocin, the aptly named “cuddle hormone.”
The results are palpable. Spearheaded by labs throughout the country that are dedicated to the science of touch, a slew of new studies are proving that touch—gentle, empathetic, and supportive—comes with incredible emotional and physical health benefits. “Touch is our body’s largest and the oldest sense," says Jeanne AbateMarco, M.S., R.N., C.N.S., clinical nurse coordinator of the Department of Integrative Health Programs at NYU Langone Medical Center. "It’s a channel of communication. It’s integral to the human experience.”
But no two touches are the same. Head to Refinery29 to learn how touch—from your partner, best friend, personal trainer, M.D., massage therapist, Fido, or robot (if you’re into that)—affects your health.