All About Skin

Dear Dr. B: My mother tells me that I have a very beautiful skin and I should take care of it. She says skin has many important functions to keep us healthy. Is that true? What does skin really do?

Answer: Yes, your mother is right. Skin is not only the largest organ of our body but has many important functions to protect us from environment. Skin is constantly exposed to sun, wind, industrial elements and injuries.

Summer is officially here and it is a good time to remind ourselves what a good job our skin does to protect us and keep us healthy. It is an organ we take for granted. But we should know better than that.

Skin is thick and waterproof. Skin is a protector, a temperature regulator and has a very sharp sensitive device. Skin has a capacity to excrete fluid and electrolytes. It stores fat and synthesizes vitamin D when our skin is exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet rays. Skin has great absorbing capacity and it can absorb many chemicals and drugs.

It plays an important role in maintaining body temperature. When a person feels hot the blood vessels in the skin dilate and sweat secretion increases. The body loses heat by radiation from the large amount of blood circulating through the dilated blood vessels in the skin and by evaporation of sweat.

Our skin has millions of sensitive nerve endings. These nerve endings act as antennas to give us pleasure or protect us from heat, cold, pressure and pain.

Our skin is full of hair except the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Hair on the head grows faster, 12 mm (half-an-inch) per month or five inches a year. Hair on the rest of the body grows more slowly. Hair keeps us warm and protects us from dust and sand.
Hair is sensitive to touch.

What about nails? We have fingernails and toenails. Nails are small in size but they play an important role, serving to help protect our fingers and toes and improve dexterity. They also may reveal clues to our general health.

Sweat glands are found in almost every part of the skin. They normally release a little fluid all the time, and as this fluid evaporates, our body cools off. If we need to cool off then these glands can get stimulated to be more active. They secrete even more fluid and help us cool off more thanks to skin temperature nerve endings.

Oil glands (sebaceous glands) produce oil secretion known as sebum. The sebum spreads on the skin. It prevents excess water loss, lubricates and softens the skin and hair. It keeps the skin flexible and waterproof. Hormones control the production of sebum. Sebum is mildly toxic to some bacteria.

So, you can see how much skin can do to protect us. It is indeed an important organ. Look after it. Protect it against the damaging effects of sun, wind and harmful chemicals. If your mother thinks your skin is beautiful then she is right. You owe it to her and to yourself to look after it.

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