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Our Wonderful Coat
Category: THE SKIN
Source: A Handbook Of Health
What the Skin Is. The skin is the most wonderful and one of the most
important structures in the body. We are prone to think lightly of it
because it lies on the surface, and to speak of it as a mere coating, or
covering--a sort of body husk; but it is very much more than this. Not
only is it waterproof against wet, a fur overcoat against cold, and a
water jacket against heat, all in one, but it is also a very important
member of the look-out department, being the principal organ of one of
our senses, that of touch.
The eyes in the beginning were simply little colored patches of the
skin, sunk into the head for the purpose of specializing on the
light-rays. The smelling areas of the nose also were pieces of the skin,
as were also the ears. Not only so, but--although it is a little hard
for you to understand how this could have happened--the whole brain and
nervous system is made up of folds of the skin tucked in from the
surface of the back; so that we can say that the skin, with the organs
that belong to it and have grown from it--the eyes, nose, ears, brain,
and nerves--forms the most wonderful part of the body. Everything that
we know of the world outside of us is told us by the skin and the
look-out organs that have grown out of it. The skin is not only the
surface part and coating of the body, far superior to any six different
kinds of clothing which have yet been invented, but it is related to,
and assists in, the work of nearly half the organs in the body. Not only
all that we learn by touch and pressure, but everything that we know of
heat and cold, of moisture and dryness, and most of pain, comes to us
through our skin, through the little bulbs on the ends of the nerve
twigs in it. It also helps the lungs to breathe, the kidneys to purify
the blood, and the heart to control the flow of blood through the body.
A healthy skin is of very great importance; and part of this health we
can secure directly, by washing and bathing, scrubbing and kneading and
rubbing, because the skin lies right on the surface, where we can
readily get at it. But, on the other hand, no amount of attention from
the outside alone will keep it healthy. All the organs inside the body
must be kept healthy if the skin is to be kept in good condition.
Although the external washing and cleaning are very important, the
greater part of the work of developing a healthy skin and a good
complexion must be done from the inside.
The Two Layers which Make Up the Skin. Like our internal skin, the
mucous membrane, which lines our stomach and bowels, the skin is made up
of two layers--a deeper, or basement, sheet, woven out of tough strands
of fibrous stuff (derma); and a surface layer (epidermis) composed
of cells lying side by side like the bricks in a pavement, or the tiles
on a floor, and hence called pavement (epithelial) cells. These
pavement cells are fastened on the basement membrane much as the kernels
of corn grow on a cob; only, instead of there being but one layer, as on
a cob of corn, there are a dozen or fifteen of them, one above the
other, each one dovetailing into the row below it, as the corn kernels
do into the surface of the cob. As they grow up toward the surface from
the bottom, they become flatter and flatter, and drier, until the outer
surface layer becomes thin, fine, dry, slightly greasy scales, like
fish-scales, of about the thickness of the very finest and driest bran.
We are continually Shedding our Skin. One way in which the skin keeps
itself so wonderfully clean and fresh is by continually shedding from
its surface showers of these fine, dry, scaly cells, which drop, or are
rubbed off, as they dry. This is the reason why no mark, not even a
stain or dye, upon the skin, will stay there long; for no matter how
deeply it may have soaked into the layers of the pavement-cells, every
cell touched by it will ultimately grow up to the surface, dry up, and
fall off, carrying the stain with it.
If you want to make a mark on the skin that will be permanent, you have
to prick the colors into it so deeply that they will go through the
basement layer and reach cells which will not grow toward the surface.
This pricking-in operation is known as tattooing; and it is as
foolish as it is painful, for blood-poisoning and other diseases may be
carried into the system in the process.
Perhaps you will wonder why, if you are shedding these scales from all
over your surface every day, you don't see them. This is simply because
they are so exceedingly small, thin, and delicate, that you cannot see
them unless you get a large number of them together; and when you are
changing your clothing, bathing, etc., they are rubbed off and float
away. If a part of the body has been shut in--as when a broken arm, for
instance, is in a cast, which cannot be changed for several weeks--when
finally you take off the bandage, you will find inside it spoonfuls--I
had almost said handfuls--of fine scales, which have been shed from the
skin and held in by the wrappings.
Next: The Glands In The Skin