This is the first of 12 posts dedicated to our bodies. I really believe that if we know how something works, then we gain a deeper understanding and respect for it. The “something” for this post is our own bodies. We all go about our day doing what we do, thinking how to get our daily chores done, hardly noticing what our bodies do for us. What a shame this is, and I am just as guilty as anyone. Usually when we feel aches or pains, or have an injury do we stop and think, what is going on here, and give our bodies a second thought. But then I discovered the wonder and awe of the human body and its intricate workings. Learning is so great – how else do we grow I’d like to ask?? So I am sharing with you some neat things about – us!
I bet for some of you this is the first time you have ever heard of the Integumentary System. The word integument means “covering”. In short the integumentary sys. is the system dealing with the skin. “Oh, ok”, I can hear you say it now. But, don’t think erroneously that it is simple and easy. As you are about to learn, the skin is deeper than you realize. Ever had a splinter and think, “How can this hurt so bad, it isn’t that deep?”. Here goes . . .
The skin is composed of two main layers: the epidermis and the dermis.
The epidermis has the outer layer that we see. It also has two main layers referred to as strata, and is made entirely of squamous epithelial cells. There are no blood vessels in the epidermis, it is nourished by capillaries in the dermis. Outer skin cells are constantly being worn off. This is called exfoliation, a term we are familiar with. Since epithelial cells are always being lost, new ones are always being formed in the lowest layer, called the stratum basale. The stratum basale is the layer closest to the dermis and is therefore closer to nourishment the capillaries provide. An upward pushing toward the surface against older cells happens as the new epithelial cells are produced. This is why a splinter will “work its way out”. The outer most layer is called the stratum corneum. By the time these older dead cells have made it to the stratum corneum they have a different look and structure than when they were first formed. The protein keratin will have replaced the cytoplasm, making the cell thicker and tougher. They lay flat together and form the protective substance we know as skin. FYI, some cells in the deepest layer of the epidermis produce melanin. Melanin is what makes the skin turn tan when sunlight hits it to protect us from burning our skin. Sunlight is a very healthy component in a natural health plan. The sun does not cause cancer, we do. As one of the important eliminative channels our bodies have, the skin helps rid the system of toxins. If we, by clogging the skin up, are blocking this natural process form taking place we cause a build-up of toxic matter. Then we go to the beach. . . get sunburned . . . and well, our bodies can take only so much. The sun will ripen cancerous cells, not cause them. Allowing a bad sunburn causes damage to skin cells, and our bodies’ response to fixing those damaged cells is sometimes one of the glitches cancer evolves from. Well onward.
The next layer is the dermis. The dermis has blood vessels, capillaries, nerves, elastic connective tissue, sweat glands (eliminative organs), oil glands, hair follicles, touch and pressure receptors, and muscle fibers . Wow, there is a lot going on in the dermis!
On average the dermis is 1.0 – 2.0 mm thick. Some thinner areas as around the eyelids, the dermis is 0.5 mm thick, and some thicker areas as the soles of the feet can be up to 3.0 mm thick. The elastic connective tissue grants the skin incredible flexibility. Think of how much the skin can stretch out, as when a woman is pregnant.
Each of the accessory structures performs an important job. Blood vessels and capillaries bring nutrients and oxygen to the area. Hair follicles are the root source of growing hair, which covers most of the skin surface. Oil glands secrete sebum that keeps the hair soft, pliable, and waterproof. Sweat glands secrete dissolved salts, water, urea, uric acid and other wastes. This is what categorizes them as excretory organs. We have an average of 2 million sweat glands, can you imagine that?? Keep them open and working. When we use greasy lotions, sunblock, deodorant, or a detergent soap, we clog the openings – pores – and trap toxins in. This is obviously not a good thing! Nerves, pressure and touch receptors allow us our sense of touch. We feel pressure, pain, temperature changes, and touching because of the nerves present in the dermis. Muscle fibers in the dermis can contract causing wrinkling of the skin. This is a simplified explanation of the specific components of the dermis, I am not writing a textbook after all, just giving basic info:).
If you have read much about how I, as a Vitalistic Herbalist, view the body, you know I teach you to support the function of the body with natural elements. The Integumentary system has specific functions it performs for us every moment of every day. There are four main functions of the skin:
- Protection against infections from pathogens
- Protection against dehydration
- Regulation of body temperature
- Collection of sensory information
These are important for our everyday health and vitality. You can place some of the most awful pathogens directly on the skin surface and you will not get sick. The outer layer of skin cells are tightly fitted together and their outward growth motion removes them in the process of exfoliation. The oil glands help to keep moisture inside by making the surface of the skin waterproof. Pour some water on your arm and see it shed right off, I bet you never thought you had this in common with an arctic seal or any water animal! This is one the body’s ways to help keep a steady temperature. The evaporation of sweat cools the body. The skin also radiates body heat out to be dissipated to the surrounding air. Blood vessels make this happen by their dilating action, bringing more blood to the surface. To keep heat in the blood vessels will contract, reducing blood flow and heat loss. Our brains detect sensory information through nerve impulses that begin in the dermis. Nerve endings are all over and throughout the skin to help us “feel” our way through every day. We know if we cut ourselves, or stubbed our toe, or hugged someone we love, or got to close to the stove burner, or scratched an irritating itchy nose, or enjoyed popping bubble wrap!! Isn’t our skin great!!!!
Some other noteworthy activities of the skin include helping absorb sunlight so our bodies can manufacture vitamin D, and absorbing herbal essences via poultices, fomentations, or ointments. (some drugs can be absorbed too, smokers patches, or estrogen creams etc.)
Oh my I have typed over 1200 words and I really have just given you a tiny glimpse into the wonders of the skin! But, I hope I have inspired you to give your skin a little more thought and concern today. What we eat and drink also determine how healthy our skin is. If we use pure natural soaps and deodorants our skin will thank us and perform superbly.
Some herbs great for the skin: aloe vera, chickweed, comfrey, red clover, plantain, calendula, and oak bark to name a few.
Love life and breathe deep,