Importance and Functions
The Skin is the largest, most dynamic, and highly intelligent organ of our body with a multiplicity of functions which are of great importance.
Here are some noteworthy functions of this immunologically active organ. In the words of Anderson and Parrish ‘the skin is a complex, dynamic, variable and multidimensional optical medium’.
- Protective Barrier:The skin acts as a highly effective barrier from environmental insults, keeping us safe from harmful microbes, not allowing harmful chemicals and UV radiation in, and preserving internal body fluids and organs by providing a protective sheath holding everything in. The intact Stratum Corneum prevents invasion from harmful pathogens. Therefore continual epidermal shedding also aids in removal of pathogens that may have colonized the skin. Excellent hygiene is of prime importance for us, and also in case of skin injury, immediate wound care is necessary.
- Temperature Regulation: The skin plays a highly important role in body thermoregulation. Special Thermoreceptor cells (cold and warm), the rich dermal blood supply coupled with complex vascular & neurological pathways allows the skin to constantly maintain inner body temperatures in response to changing environmental conditions. Another way the skin maintains temperature homeostasis is by loss of heat through convection, radiation, conduction and evaporation. In places of high environmental temperatures, the main type of heat loss (to maintain inner body temperature) is via sweating (evaporation). Oil secreted by the skin oil glands (sebaceous) also possess natural anti-bacterial properties. Hence one must avoid using excessively harsh chemical face scrubs, drying face masks, or soaps that will deplete this protective layer of oil.
- Protection from Mechanical Injury: The skin to an extent warns us of mechanical injury, by way of pressure receptors in our dermis. This helps in protecting us from potential injury, since mechanical pressure is processed by the skin, and interpreted by our brain as a threat. Therefore the injury can be minimized and prevented in time.
- Immunological Functions: This subject is undergoing intense research and is of great importance. Both the outer layer of the skin (epidermis) and inner layer (dermis) are involved in immunologically policing our bodies. Complex cellular pathways are involved in immunological host defense tactics. This function acts to prevent harmful antigens (external from the environment) from harming our bodies. Also, something to note is that it also plays a role in various internal autoimmune disorders. This function is of great importance to the clinical, research and therapeutic science community.
- Warning System: Many internal diseases externalize themselves onto the skin. This fact is of great significance to all health care professionals and skin care givers. They should be aware of these signs, and if there is any doubt or suspicion, they must investigate further to rule out internal disease.
- Sensory Function: The skin is richly and extensively innervated. Reactions to pain, touch (including vibration and pressure), cold, itch, warmth are all actively felt by the skin. This function helps in a myriad of ways. Warming us of potential external harmful stimuli and making us aware of our external environment.
- Role in Nutrition: The skin plays an active role in the manufacturing of Vitamin D upon exposure to therapeutic doses of sunlight.
- Sociosexual Communication and Individuality: Our fingerprints make us unique. Our appreance, the way we look, smell and feel, adds individuality to our persona. Every culture from thousands of years has used the skin to enhance esthetic appearance, create tribal or racial distinctiveness, by using various techniques like cosmetics, piercing, tattoo’s, and other novel methods.
- Psychological aspect: This aspect of skin is often forgotten by skin health professionals, skin care givers and the public. Acne, eczema, psoriasis, are few of the skin problems that cause great stress, anxiety, and depression, not to mention reduced quality of social life. During my research years, I was shown an aspect of skin disease and function that I never knew existed. Patients complained of severe bouts of depression, missing school and work, and extreme levels of anxiety. The deduction from this observation was this: The skin plays a huge role in our psychological well being, and therefore keeping it healthy is vital for completing the cycle of health.
This is a summary of the importantance of skin and its functions. Knowing this, and keeping in mind all the ways in which the skin helps us survive the environment, life and keep us immunolgically alert, doesn’t it become our duty to care for this amazing organ? Not only keeping it healthy and radiant externally, but healthy from within? My advice to everyone is, never neglect this complex organ that protects us constantly. One should never take skin health for granted.
On an ending note, ‘Skin Failure’ can happen. Although uncommonly heard of, it is one of the medical emergencies and like any other organ of our body, the skin can also stop functioning due to many factors.
So, take care of your skin. Stay healthy, think positive, and remember that a healthy lifestyle, a good skin care routine will give you an inner and outer glow and do wonders for your self confidence as well!
This article is meant to promote public awareness on skin health.
- ‘Clinical applications of IPL’ Dr. Ansul N K (MSc Clinical Dermatology)
- Anderson and Parrish
- Image: CutiConscious