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June 2015

Magic of the Skin

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Dermatology, Tufts Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(6):645. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2014.5206

The earliest record of magic as a performing art is that of the magician Dedi in ancient Egypt in 2700 bc. Over time, magicians developed a vast array of tricks using craftsmanship, showmanship, thrill, and intrigue.

The skin has often been an important element of a magician’s illusions. Coins can be hidden in skin folds. By pouring rubber cement on the skin, it becomes sticky and small objects like a pen can be hidden. Fake skin is used in tricks where body parts are sawed off. The American magician Harry Houdini was notable for his extraordinary escape acts in which he would free himself from handcuffs, restraints, straitjackets, and locked objects. When Houdini was young, he studied lock picking, and it is speculated that Houdini would occasionally hide lock picks in the calluses of his feet.1 The modern day magician David Blaine uses a trick whereby a needle repeatedly inserted through the skin of the arm over many years creates a tunnel of scar tissue into which small objects can be hidden.

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