Your Skin

The skin performs many functions, and you would not be able to live without it. When you "skin" yourself you have usually scraped off only the top layer. Over much of the body, the skin is about three millimeters thick. It is tough, like rawhide.

Your skin has more functions than any other organ in your body. It is between the inside of your body and the external world and thus, is continually exposed to accidents, the elements, attacks of disease germs, animal parasites, and harsh abrasions. Millions of cells are lost everyday and replaced within that same day. The body is protected from loss of water by the skin. In the skin are many sensory organs such as those indicating pain, temperature, pressure, and touch. Your body temperature is partially regulated by the skin through sweat glands. If you had no skin, your bodily fluids would seep out. Waste is also somewhat eliminated through the pigments of your skin. This same pigment protects your body from harmful sun rays and helps give your skin its color.

Your skin can be an indication as to whether your health is good or bad. Flushed cheeks will show that there is a fever in the body. If you don't get enough sleep, there will be circles under your eyes. Sometimes you can blush when embarrassed and your cheeks will become red. If you are very frightened, your face can become pale. Usually when you are not feeling well, your skin will send out that message.

The skin has two layers, the outer layer and the main layer. The top layer is a visible layer called the epidermis. Its main job is to provide a covering for the body. The epidermis contains both living and dead cells and within this outer layer are pigments that determine your skin color. The living cells of the outer skin layer contain pigments, or coloring materials. Skin that contains large amounts of the pigment carotene has a yellowish tinge. This color of skin is found primarily in people of Asian ancestry. Africans and people of African descent have large quantities of the pigment melanin that results in brown or black skin. If there is very little carotene and melanin, the skin is pink. Pink skin is caused by hemoglobin, a pigment in the blood. The blood passes through tiny blood vessels that are very close to the surface of the skin. Unless the skin is dark from melanin or carotene, the hemoglobin in the blood will be the primary coloring factor. Most people have the same pigments for skin color with varying amounts. These pigments absorb the burning rays of the sun and protect the deeper cells from sunburn, which can be very dangerous. The skin is thickest on your palms and soles and is thinnest on your eyelids.

Under the epidermis is the dermis. This is an elastic layer containing blood vessels that nourish the skin. Sweat glands, oil glands, and hair roots are formed from pockets of the epidermal layer that lie within the dermis. Like the epidermis, this layer of skin can repair itself if it is damaged. If severely damaged, it will be replaced by connective tissue that forms a scar. The dermis contains oil glands that help keep the skin from drying out and prevent hair and nails from becoming brittle. The oil glands are most numerous on the forehead and nose where the skin is easily dried by the sun. The dermis is often called true skin and is composed of blood vessels, nerves, sense organs, elastic and nonelastic fibers, sweat and oil glands, hair follicles, fat cells, and smooth muscle. This is the layer that is transformed into leather by tanning. The layer is not flat but has little papillae that project against the base of the epidermis. In these little papillary recesses are located many sensory corpuscles and small tufts of blood capillaries.

Within the dermal layer there are also about two and a half million sweat glands that produce perspiration. There are little openings called pores that let perspiration reach the surface of the skin. According to the needs of an individual, the amount of perspiration will vary because of the chemical makeup. When this perspiration evaporates, it will help lower the body temperature. Salts and other waste materials are eliminated in this perspiration.

Under the outer and main layer of the skin is a third layer that is actually a layer of fat. The outer layer is something like tree bark with outer cells that are dead and keep rubbing off. The inner cells are always dividing to replace the dead ones. The dead cells of the skin surface are filled with a tough protein that makes them strong and scale-like. These cells protect the living cells underneath. If you were to keep rubbing a spot on the skin too much, the living cells below would speed up their rate of growth. This would produce an extra thick layer of dead cells at that spot. This is how a callus forms. This fat-containing layer serves several purposes. It acts primarily as an insulation to help keep heat in the body. Your body fat acts as a shock absorber to protect the bones and the muscles beneath the skin. When you don't eat enough, the body uses its fat reserve for survival; on the other hand, when you eat too much, the fat builds up and the person becomes overweight. This fat acts as a cushion against shock, a storage place for fat, a protector for nerves and blood vessels, a heat regulator, and also gives contour to the body.

The skin has more than two million sweat glands. Most are eccrine glands and are found all over the body but mostly are common on the palms ad soles where there are no hairs. These glands secrete one or two quarts of fluid daily, approximately the same amount as your urine waste. Another type of sweat gland is called the apocrine sweat gland. These glands develop at puberty or later and are not found all over the body. They are abundant under the arms, around the mammary glands, in the perineal region, and in the external ear canal. These ducts are wider and more crooked than eccrine gland ducts. They have a secretion that is thick, milky, or grayish, and that dries on the skin to form a plastic sole. This secretion does not regulate heat.

Little tubes pass down through both layers of the skin, and hair grows from these tubes. At the bottom end of each tube are cells that divide rapidly, forming the shaft of the hair. As the hair is pushed outward, its cells will die. The same tough protein that is present in the dead cells of the outer skin is contained in these cells. When a hair reaches a certain length, it will fall out and then a new one will grow in its place depending on the area of the hair follicle. The body hairs, eyelashes, eyebrows, and head hairs will each have a definite length to which they will grow. Sometimes, as in the case of men going bald, there will be no growth. Baldness is caused by certain skin diseases and is largely due to heredity.

Oil glands in the skin produce an oil that flows through the same tubes through which the hair grows. This oil keeps the skin and hair surface soft. Sometimes when you wash your skin and hair in strong soap and hot water, the skin will become cracked and the hair very dry. Have you see the hairs on your arm seem to have "goose pimples?" This occurs when muscle fibers have connected with the side of each tube that produces a hair; when these fibers contract, the hair will stand on end. In mammals with fur, this hair standing on end will serve the purpose of keeping them warm. Man's body hair cannot possibly keep him warm, but it still stands on end when he is chilly.

It is very important to have good health habits so your body will have healthy skin. When the skin is healthy, then it will glow and you will have an attractive appearance. Having a healthy diet, exercising, and having adequate sleep are essential to healthy skin. You will need to always keep in consideration that overexposing your skin to the sun is not healthy. Skin disorders and skin infections for the most part can be prevented through healthy daily care of the skin. Sensitive skin may require the use of scent-free or non-allergenic soap; be sure to wash away the soap with lots of clean water.

It is an absolute must to have the skin as clean as possible by regular washing of the face with warm water and soap, which removes dirt, skin scales, bacteria, oil, and sweat. You may even use a dry skin cream to help your skin be protected from weather conditions. There are many creams and lotions available to lubricate, moisturize, and cleanse the skin. Some people are just prone to have skin that is sensitive to soap or have excessively dry skin; thus, these creams are very helpful.

As a person reaches the teen years, there are many changes that take place in the body. The oil glands can become overactive, clogging the pores with oil and producing blackheads. By washing the face regularly, the surface dirt will be removed and blackheads may be prevented. The face may need to be washed several times a day. After washing be sure to apply cold towels and rubbing alcohol to close these pores.

Your skin should be protected as much as possible from the sun's rays. Excessive sunlight over long periods of time can cause cancer. When you start to tan your skin, do it very gradually, a few minutes each day at first, then increasing by 5 to 10 minutes each day thereafter. Take the precaution to oil yourself with sunscreen and protect your eyes with sunglasses while exposed to sunshine.

By taking precautions when out in the bright sunlight and by keeping your skin healthy each day, your skin will be in the best possible condition to take care of your body.

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