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Know Your Skin

Know Your Skin

One of the most unrecognized organs in the body is the skin. Skin is often neglected and not thought of until there is a visible sign of a problem, such as a rash or injury, even though it covers the entire body. Skin plays a large part in keeping humans healthy as it performs a large variety of functions that are essential to the proper functioning of the rest of the body. The more a person learns about what skin is and the benefits it provides to the body, the more they can understand just how important proper skin care is.

What is the body's biggest organ?

When people think of the human body's organs, the first organ they think of is usually the heart or perhaps the lungs. They often do not even realize that the body's largest organ is in fact an organ. The skin is the largest organ in the entire human body. Skin makes up approximately 16% of entire body weight in a person of healthy weight and is vital to the health of humans as it encases all of the important internal organs. Most people are aware that skin holds everything that is inside together, but many do not realize that the body's biggest organ performs some of the most needed functions for living a healthy life.

  • The Skinny on Skin: The Skinny on Skin is a basic look into several aspects of skin.
  • Introduction to the Skin: Introduction to the Skin is a great way to begin learning about skin.
  • Q & A: Human Skin: A Question and Answer style resource that answers basic questions about what skin is.
  • Skin: A more detailed resource about skin basics, with a very helpful color coordinated diagram.
  • What is Skin?: A quick description about the general areas of skin, to answer the common question of "what is skin?"

Functions

A person's skin may not seem like it does much work but the truth is that skin is constantly performing actions to keep them healthy. The skin performs four different main functions. First, it acts as a protector. The skin protects the body in a variety of ways; the most recognized function of the skin is that it acts as a cushion and encasing for the internal organs held inside by the skin. Skin also protects the body by acting as a barrier from environmental hazards, such as sun, cold weather, wind and even pollution. With the skin as a barrier, these hazards found in the environment are not as easily able to penetrate the internal organs and cause damage. The skin protects from viruses in much the same way. Parasites and diseases are often unable to penetrate the skin unless there is a cut or large opening that allows them inside.

Next, the skin gives the body the sensation of touch. This sensation can also act as a protector to the body. For instance, when a person touches a hot stove, the skin senses the heat and immediately signals to the brain that this hotness is a danger to the rest of the body. The skin is able to do this because of tiny receptors that are found inside of the skin. The receptors sense the danger and then send the message of hot, cold, danger, etc. to the brain so that the person is aware of the danger and can immediately remove their bodies from the danger. The sense of touch is skin also allows the brain to receive good signals, such as a hug or a pat on the back.

The third function of the skin is to act as insulation. Skin acts as an insulator and keeps the internal organs to the temperature that is necessary for the cells inside of the body to perform as they should. Human body temperature must remain around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Because of this need, the skin is constantly using energy from the cells inside of the body to continually produce heat as it escapes from the body. The hair that is found on skin also assists with the insulation function, helping to keep heat inside of the body.

The last function of the skin is temperature regulation. Temperature regulation is similar to insulation though it is actually very different. Temperature regulation means that the skin is constantly increasing and decreasing the temperature inside of the body. While insulation helps store heat inside, temperature regulation ensures that the body does not store or lose too much heat. Temperature regulation is the reason that a person's body "adjusts" to the weather or indoor temperature. For instance, when a person comes inside of an air conditioned building after being outside on a hot day, at first they may find the cool air to be freezing but slowly they adjust to the temperature and are able to enjoy the drastic change. This is because of the skin, the skin senses the body's temperature and releases heat (usually through sweat) when the body begins to get too warm and holds in more heat when the body begins to get too cold. Without these four main functions of the skin, humans would be more prone to parasites, internal injury, freezing and overheating. The skin is actually a large part of what makes us feel comfortable, though often times we think very little about how hard the skin is working to do so.

  • Skin Functions: The skin performs many functions, but this resource breaks them down into 4 basic categories.
  • What is the 'true' function of skin?: The true functions of skin are discussed in detail, making it easy to understand the many tasks the skin is responsible for.
  • Protective Functions of the Skin: This article highlights the protective functions of the skin.
  • Thermoregulation: A detailed diagram of how the skin works to regulate body temperature, as well as an easily understood article of explanations and examples. This source is very helpful in understanding skin receptors and voluntary/involuntary responses.
  • How the Body Regulates Heat: This resource explains how the skin is responsible for regulating heat in the body and also covers matters such as heatstroke, fevers and hot flashes.
  • The Skin Senses: This activity teaches people to focus on the sensations that are felt with the skin.
  • Thermal Sensation: This list informs people of where hot and cold skin receptors are located on the body.
  • The Innate Immune System: Anatomical Barriers: A compilation of ways that skin acts as a barrier to protect the immune system.
  • Skin & Body Membranes: Skin has many layers and must work together with the body in order to complete vital functions. Skin & Body Membranes is a good look into how skin works with the body to perform functions.
  • (PDF) Functions of the Skin: This resource highlights the basic functions of the skin and then also provides more details about the basic functions.

Skin Layers

Skin is made up of three main layers; the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous layer. The epidermis is the layer of skin that everyone sees. It contains hair follicles and sweat glands. The second layer of skin is the dermis. The dermis is directly underneath the epidermis and contains tissue and blood. The third layer of skin is the subcutaneous layer and it is underneath both the epidermis and the dermis. The subcutaneous layer contains deeper tissue which connects the skin to vital organs, as well as major blood vessels. Each of these layers also have deeper sub-layers which perform specific tasks that are needed in order to complete all of the various functions of the skin.

  • Anatomy of Skin: The anatomy of skin is featured here, as well as information about the responsibilities of each layer of skin.
  • Layers of Skin: Everything one could possibly want to know about each layer of the skin is featured in this article, including information about the hair and nails that grow on skin.
  • Skin Layers: This link shows a very clearly labeled picture that makes identifying each layer of the skin very simple.
  • Skin & The Integumentary System: A detailed look at skin & integumentary system explains how each layer of the skin works, in an easy to follow outline layout.
  • Skin Layers & Sub-Layers: This resource features excellent descriptions as well as a variety of pictures on the multiple layers and sub-layers of skin.

Protect Your Skin

Keeping skin healthy is a large part of being a healthy person. The sun produces harmful Ultra Violet rays which slowly damage the skin and can affect the way it functions. If the skin is unable to function properly due to damage, it becomes susceptible to harmful diseases such as skin cancer. Skin cancer can be deadly but it can easily be prevented by caring for and protecting the skin. Using sunblock is key to avoiding sun damage when outdoors. Sunblock prevents the UV rays from the sun from penetrating the skin, therefore avoiding the damage it could cause. Sunblock should be applied anytime a person is outdoors in the sun, regardless of whether it is hot outside or not. Sun damage can even occur in the winter time because although it is cold, the UV rays are still being produced from the sun. Eating a healthy diet, rich in Vitamin C, also gives an extra boost and helps the skin regenerate itself if injured or damaged.

Additional Information Links:

  • General Skin Care Tips: This guide is helpful in explaining daily skin care routines, as well as how to treat common skin problems such as warts, acne and eczema.
  • Maintaining Healthy Skin: Maintaining healthy skin is important and this resource provides information on how to maintain skin, whether the skin type is normal, dry or oily.
  • Touch Experiments: Neuroscience for Kids: One of the best ways to learn is through hands-on experiments; this experiment teaches kids the science behind the sensation of touch.
  • What Happens to Your Skin When You Tan: This resource provides an in-depth explanation along with pictures, of what is happening inside skin when people are outdoors in the sun, without sunblock.
  • Tanning Bed Facts & Figures: Tanning Bed Facts & Figures gives a statistical look at the effects of using tanning beds.
  • Skin Quiz: How much do you know about your skin?: This quiz is a way to test understanding and knowledge of skin.
  • Sammy the Skin Cell Game: Sammy the Skin Cell is an entertaining game for kids of all ages that teaches them about the importance of skin care as they play.
  • Interactive Skin Facts: Colorful, clickable slides are featured in this interactive skin fact resource making the journey to learning about skin fun for all!
  • Common Skin Disorders: This guide gives information about the most commonly diagnosed skin disorders.
  • The Science of Skin for Kids: A resource that explains skin in basic terms to help young children understand the science behind skin.
By Katie Phillips

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