arrector pili

A SLIGHT touch, an emotional moment or a particularly cold day can all give us goosebumps: there is not a lot we can do about it, and in fact it is an important protective mechanism for our bodies.

So what is it that is actually happening when we get goosebumps? When the body is exposed to cold conditions, it does its best not to cool down too quickly.

When nerves in the skin notice a cold stimulus, they pass on the information to tiny muscles located under the sebaceous glands that are known as arrector pili muscles (literally, muscles that make hair stand on end).

The contraction of those small muscles indeed makes hair stand on end, which constricts the blood vessels.

“That keeps the body warm,” says Ulrike Blume-Peytavi, head of the Dermatology, Venereology and Allergology Department in Berlin’s Charite Hospital, Germany.

It is impossible to control this process consciously. The best thing we can do if we want to prevent goosebumps is to keep warm enough. However, a similar process is triggered by emotionally arousing circumstances.

The body then goes into fighting mode: the muscles become tense and get ready for fight or flight. The final choice will not make a big difference, and our thighs will contract along with arrector pili muscles.

Goosebumps can also emerge when we feel angry, happy or aroused and, in such cases, even the warmest coat will not help. – dpa