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So you probably realize your skin is pretty important, they tell you that in about every beauty product/washing powder based ad in the world. If you don’t have a TV (like seriously? its 2013) just imagine your life without skin, it be pretty messy with all your insides no longer inside you.
You may not give your skin much thought, unless it’s covered with spots or irritated and itchy (maybe as he didn’t shave last night before your snogging session) but it plays a bunch of important jobs you have probably never even thought about (besides keeping your insides in). Skin is your body’s first and best defense against the world, it’s your built in anorak and it helps to keep you warm on a chilly train platform. It also has the ability to tells us when it doesn’t like what we are coming into contact with and what is around us. It’s also the largest organ of the body weighing 3.2kg on an average person and measuring approximately 2 meters squared.
Roles of the Skin
- The skin provides a barrier between your body and bad stuff in the outside world such as bacteria and poisons
- The skin helps to keep water inside your body and prevent excessive water loss
- The skin is also water resistant so it not only stops you from getting all soggy but also means important nutrients aren’t washed out of the body
- The skin helps to regulate your body temperature
- It sweats when you get hot
- It provides insulation to stop you getting cold
- The skin is how you feel stuff. It is packed with nerve endings that allow you feel pain, heat, cold, pressure and touch
Parts of the Skin
The skin is made up of three main layers. They are the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous layer. Each plays its own role in keeping you healthy and comfortable.
This is the outermost layer of your skin:
- It’s the waterproof bit
- It’s the main barrier to infection
- It even has these amazing cells called Langerhans cells that alert your body’s immune system to viruses and infections
- It plays some role in regulating temperature
This is the middle thick elastic part of your skin:
- Contains nerve endings that relay messages to the brain about pain, temperature and touch
- It is also full of
- Hair follicles and sweat glands (for temperature regulation)
- Blood vessels
- Lymphatic vessels (for immune responses)
Final layer of skin which is basically a layer of fat:
- Used as a fuel reserve
- Provides insulation
- Helps cushion your body from knocks
This is not part of your skin but it attaches the skin to your bones and muscles and supplies it blood and nerves.
Damage to Skin
The most important thing to remember when you damage your skin - whether, through burns and sunburns, cuts and grazes or blisters - is that you have damaged one of your body’s main defenses. It is incredibly important that you look after your skin and help it repair, failure to do so can lead to long term damage, scarring, serious infection or possibly even skin cancer.
Cuts and Grazes (abrasions)
Most minor cuts and grazes have probably only damaged the epidermis (top layer of skin) but deeper cuts and grazes may also cause damage to the dermis.
- First you will likely bleed as blood vessels in the skin have been damaged
- This is actually a key part of the body’s defense process as it helps to wash away some of the debris and microbes that have got into your system through the cut
- It’s also important that you clean out the cut, you can use alcohol wipes or give it a good scrub in the shower with some soap. This too will help stop it from getting infected and to kill off any germs that may be lurking
- Then your blood vessels will start to contract and your blood will start to clot and form a scab
- If it doesn’t seem to be clotting you should go to the doctor or A and E as you may need stitches or you may have a condition that prevents your blood from clotting
- Scabs help stop anything else from getting in through the cut. So when your mum told you to stop picking at your scab she wasn’t doing so arbitrarily, she had good reason
- After the initial damage is contained and limited your body will start to create new replacement cells, tissue and blood vessels to replace the blood clot and heal your skin. Eventually the skin on the surface is replaced and the scab will fall off
- If that cut was bad you will likely get at least a small scar as the replacement tissue has a higher level of collagen in it and has fewer blood vessels than the rest of your skin
We all need some sun as sunlight is how your body makes vitamin D. However too much sun or exposure to UV rays (in places like tanning salons) can seriously damage your skin.
- This is the chemical that gives your skin colour when you get tanned
- Sun stimulates melanin production
- It helps to protect your skin and cells by absorbing some UV rays to preventing cell damage
- The darker your skin is the more melanin you have so the better naturally protected you are from UV damage
- Though melanin will help, UV rays may still do serious damage
Sunburn happens when UV radiation damages skin cells. You turn red when you get sunburn as the body sends extra cells and blood to the skin to repair the damage. Severe sunburn (sometimes referred to as ‘sun poisoning’) is not much different than any other bad burn and can lead to blisters, infection and dehydration. In some cases sun poisoning can even be fatal.
- Cancer is when cells grow abnormally and don’t follow orders. They get out of control, rapidly divide and create new cells even when they aren’t needed.
- Your body’s cells grow and divide in your body every day, replacing old cells with new healthy ones in an orderly, organized way. In cancerous cells they don’t do this
- Skin cancer often occurs due to repeated exposure to high levels of UV light, causing permanent damage to skin cells, that then stop behaving like normal cells
- People with fairer skin are more susceptible but anyone can get skin cancer no matter how dark or fair their skin
- Just one indoor tanning session per year increases the risk of basal cell carcinoma by 10 percent. That risk is estimated to increase to up to 73 percent if you tan up to six times per year
- Skin cancer often forms a leathery or raised bit of discoloured skin (might look a bit like a mole) that may be itchy, painful or even bleed
- The two most common types of skin cancer are
- Carcinoma, which tends to stay in one place and doesn’t really spread and is fairly easy to remove
- Malignant Melanoma, which does often spread to other places on the skin and can be fatal if untreated
- Scarily this may be responsible for less than 5% of cancers but it causes the majority of cancer deaths
- A person’s risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has suffered more than five sunburns at any age
- Survival rate for melanoma has greatly increased in the last few decades
- If you are concerned that you have skin cancer you should definitely go see your doc, he will be able to calm your fears and do some tests. If cancer is caught early treatment is far more successful
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