The Role of Social Closeness During Tape Stripping to Facilitate Skin Barrier Recovery: Preliminary Findings
Objective: Social support is known to reduce the negative effects of stress on health, but there is mixed evidence for the effects of social support on wound healing. This study aimed to investigate whether undergoing a task designed to promote social closeness with a fellow participant and being paired with that person during a tape-stripping procedure could reduce stress and improve skin barrier recovery compared to going through tape stripping alone. Method: Seventy-two healthy adults were randomized to either a social closeness condition where participants completed a relationship-building task and tape stripping in pairs or a control condition where they completed tape stripping alone. Skin barrier recovery was measured using transepidermal water loss. Salivary cortisol and alpha-amylase were collected at four time points as markers of the endocrine and autonomic stress response. Results: Social closeness had a beneficial effect on skin barrier recovery compared to the control condition, t(54) = 2.86, p = .006, r = .36. Social closeness significantly reduced self-reported stress. The effects of the intervention on skin barrier recovery were moderated by self-reported stress reduction (p = .035). There were no significant differences in cortisol between groups, but alpha-amylase increased significantly more from baseline to after tape stripping in the control group compared to the intervention group. Conclusions: This is the first study to show that social closeness with a person going through a similar unfamiliar procedure can positively influence wound healing. Future research needs to replicate these findings in other wound types and in clinical settings.