Michael Jackson’s Fiery Pepsi Commercial

You have no doubt seen the new footage of Michael Jackson’s 1984 Pepsi commercial in which the pyrotechnics go off too early, causing Jackson’s hair to ignite in flames. (If not, see link below.) It is reported that Michael sustained second and third degree burns to his scalp and face. Many have stated that this was a watershed moment in Michael’s life, as this was when he was first given prescription pain killers to deal with the pain of the burns.

Our skin is our body’s largest organ andhas some very important functions. Besides keeping what’s inside yourbody from what’s outside of it, the skin protects the body frombacteria and viruses. It regulates body temperature, and helps yousense what the outside environment is- wet/dry, hot/cold.

Skin has two main layers:

  • Epidermis: The epidermis is the top layer of the skin. It is mostly made of flat cells called squamous cells. Under the squamous cells in the deepest part of the epidermis are round cells called basal cells. Cells called melanocytes make the pigment (color) found in skin and are located in the lower part of the epidermis
  • Dermis: The dermis lies under the epidermis and contains blood vessels, lymph vessels, and glands. Some of these glands make sweat, which helps cool the body. Other glands make sebum,  an oily substance that helps keep the skin from drying out. Sweat and sebum reach the surface of the skin through tiny openings called pores.

Burns of the skin are frequently put into three categories, depending on the depth of the injury to the skin.
First degree burns involve only the upper epidermis. It looks like a sunburn- the skin is pink and swollen and may be painful for a few days.  Treatment consists of cool compresses and over the counter pain medications.
Second degree burns (also called partial thickness burns) damage the epidermis and the layer beneathit (the dermis). Second degree burns are pink or red,swollen, and painful, and they develop blisters that may ooze aclear fluid.
Third-degree burns (also called full thickness burns) usually are notpainful because the nerves have been destroyed. All layers of the skin are involved and the skin becomesleathery and may be white, black, or bright red. The burned areadoes not blanch when touched, and hairs can easily be pulled fromtheir roots without pain.


Deep second-degree and third-degree burns swell and take more time to heal. In addition, deeper burns can cause scar tissue to form. This scar tissue shrinks (contracts) as it heals. If the scarring occurs in a limb or digit, the resulting contracture may restrict movement of nearby joints. Physical therapy is often necessary to help prevent this. Severe burns (especially if large areas of skin are involved) increase the risk of general infection and can upset the body’s temperature regulation and fluid balance. The treatment of third degree burns requires thorough cleaning of all the damaged tissue to allow healing. If the area of skin loss is large, then skin grafting is necessary.

Skin grafting is the use of donor skin over a burn area to protect it. The skin may come from an unaffected site on the burn victim (autologous) or from another individual (allogeneic) such as a cadavar. Allogenic graphs are temporary only, as the burn victim’s immune system will eventually reject it, but protect the burned area during the healing process. Before use, the skin is put through a machine which “waffles” it to allow it to cover a larger area. There is also “artificial skin” which can be placed under a skin graft to act as a scaffold for skin cell healing.

Pepsi commercial video:

For more information:


Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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