Nathan Snyder, of Aranui High School, asks :-

After watching the movie Goldfinger I would like to know what skin suffication is and how does it kill?

David Nicholls, a dermatologist, responded.

In the James Bond movie 'Goldfinger' the villain Goldfinger's female agent was painted from head to foot with gold paint. She was subsequently discovered dead by 007 who diagnosed 'skin suffocation' as the cause of death. Although it makes for an exciting story, 'skin suffocation' is really just dramatic license, rather than a license to kill, as there is really no such thing.

The skin is the largest organ in the body and has many important functions in terms of protection, excretion, and heat regulation, but is not involved with respiration. Although I have not dealt with any patients who have been coated with gold paint, they would probably become ill through impairment of the skin's ability to sweat. Radiated heat loss might also be reduced through an insulating effect of the paint, so the person could develop a high temperature through these mechanisms.

If the paint contained any toxic substances it is possible that these could be absorbed through the skin and thus cause illness.

I would think that, in any case, the victim would probably find their way to a bottle of turpentine long before their condition became terminal.