Dermatographism in Popular Culture


      Dermatographism was first described by William Heberden (1710-1801) over 250 years ago as a type of urticaria brought on by rubbing or scratching the skin. In 1859, William Gull (1816-1890) gave it the name factitious urticaria, distinguishing dermatographism from chronic urticaria, in which the skin lesions appear spontaneously.
      During the 1870’s. French physicians at the Salpetriere hospital in Paris became impressed by their ability to write words on the bodies of patients admitted with hysteria and other psychiatric disorders, who also exhibited dermatographism. At first, they described this phenomenon as “autographisme,” but by 1890 it became known as “dermographisme,” the forerunner of the current term dermatographism.
      At the Salpetriere and elsewhere in the world, it became fashionable to photograph patients with dermatographism, to capture the striking urticarial writing on their skin. These photographs were used in atlases and to illustrate dermatology texts, medical journals as well as popular magazines. This contribution presents several vintage photographs of dermatographism from the late 19th century – early 20th century time period.
      Dermatographism has also become featured in popular culture including film, comic books, poetry, and body art, examples of which are provided in this contribution with the assistance of two of our authors, Ariana Page Russell and Jeannine Hall Gailey who have embraced their dermatographism and have used their artistic and poetic talents to educate and inspire patients about this common skin condition.
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        Note sur des troubles vaso-moteurs de la peau observes sur une hysterique (femme autographique).
        L'Union medicale. 1879; 144: 917-922
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