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Our Wonderful Coat

Categories: THE SKIN
Sources: 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.