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Skin

Our skin is the largest organ we possess and not only protects us from injury and infection but keeps the body's temperature and moisture content stable at all times.

The skin is much more than a simple wrapping around our body. It is a living and versatile organ and, as such, reflects the age and state of health of the body it encloses. In addition to protecting and cushioning the body and forming a waterproof barrier on the outside, the skin also seals in moisture, eliminates body waste into the atmosphere and keeps harmful bacteria and viruses at bay. It controls body temperature and, through its network of sensory nerve endings, it transmits information about external stimuli to the brain. Thus it enables us to feel things, to experience painful and pleasant sensations and enjoy physical relations with others.

THE SKIN'S STRUCTURE
The skin is made up of two main parts. The outermost layer - the epidermis - is made up of several layers of cells. On the surface are flattened, overlapping horny cells which are forever being shed as a material called keratin which is just visible as tiny scales.

Dead cells are continually being replaced from below and it takes about three weeks for a new skin cell, formed in the underlying dermis, to dry out, die and be shed. The epidermis is protected by a naturally acid mantle which deters bacteria and pollutants.

THE DERMIS
The epidermis is firmly attached to an underlying layer called the dermis. Tiny, finger-like bulges from the dermis fit into sockets in the epidermis and this waviness at the junction of the two layers of skin gives rise to ridges which are most obvious at the fingertips.

The dermis is madeup of bundles of protein fibres, called collagen, and elastic fibres. Embedded in it are the sebaceous oil glands, sweat glands, hair follicles, blood vessels, pigmentation cells and the living skin cells. This is the working level of the skin where all the essential functions and processes are carried out and the blood vessels supply oxygen, protein, vitamins and minerals. The sweat glands are essential in regulating the body's temperature, while the sebaceous glands lubricate the skin and hair. The apocrine glands develop at puberty and are a sexual characteristic. The cells that produce pigment, melanocytes, determine skin colour and can cause freckles.

There is a fine network of nerve endings in both layers of the skin and they are particularly numerous at the fingertips. They transmit pleasurable sensations of warmth and touch, as well as the less agreeable feelings of cold, itching and pain.

WHAT CAUSES SKIN COLOUR?
Skin colour is due to the black pigment melanin which is produced by pigment cells in the lowest layer of the epidermis. There is the same number of pigment-producing cells in the skin of all people but the amount of melanin varies. In dark-skinned people there is more melanin than in light-skinned people. Freckles are caused by the pigment cells' uneven production of melanin, which can be exacerbated by exposure to the sun's rays.

WHITE WITH FEAR
Other factors contributing to skin colour are the blood in the blood vessels of the skin and the natural yellowish tinge of skin tissue. The state of the blood within the blood vessels can dramatically change skin colour. For instance, we become 'white' with fear when small blood vessels close off, 'red' with anger due to an increased blood flow and 'blue' with cold when most of the blood moves out to the tissues as the blood flow slows down.

     
     

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