The body's first line of defense


Published: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 11:51 a.m.
The body has a lot of protective features. We don't usually pay much attention to these unique defenses but they are at work. The attention given to skin for the most part has to do with its cosmetic features.
Vendors advertise their products to make the skin soft and radiant. Other companies sell products to get rid of stretch marks, acne, dark patches, blemishes and other unwanted conditions.
When was the last time you took an admiring glance at your skin and said, "Thank you for your unparalleled protection?"
Given the fact that the skin is the largest organ of the body, it is well worth finding out what it does on our behalf. The medical world considers the skin, along with its partners, the nails, hair and sweat and oil glands, as the integumentary system.
As a major body protector, providing secretions that can kill bacteria, the skin also protects us against chemicals and ultraviolet light. Regulation of body temperature is also a key function of the skin.
During times of extreme exposure to cold temperatures, the blood vessels in the dermis constrict (narrow). This allows the warm blood to bypass the skin. When this happens the skin becomes the temperature of the cold it is exposed to, allowing the body to conserve heat.
Skin comes in several varieties. Cosmetologist refer to it as oily, dry, dry-oily or whatever. The care they recommend targets the attractiveness of our skin. This article will not be about that aspect of our skin.
I will say that the skin is made up of three layers. The top layer is the epidermis the second layer is the dermis and the third layer is the hypodermis.
Most of the injuries that we call scrapes and scratches are damage to the first layer. Burns, and other injuries may affect all layers of the skin and require medical intervention.
I asked my niece about a bandage that she was wearing on her foot. I was concerned with the cause of her injury. When I asked if her injury involved a break in the skin, she replied, " Oh no, Aunt Viv, it's just a scratch."
She and I laughed when I explained to her that any time that you open the skin in any way, you have a break in the skin that will allow germs to enter.
The good thing here is if you wash the wound thoroughly, yes with soap and water, pat it dry and use an anti-microbial ointment, if you are in fairly good health the body's immune system will do the rest.
Breaks in the skin, (cuts, scratches, burns), corns, calluses, warts, bunions, molds, age spots, stretch marks, pimples, freckles, rashes, hives, birth marks, wrinkles, are some of the terms used to describe this body organ.
Describing the many shades of the skin of Americans has always been a little hard for some people. Such things as light-skinned, dark-skinned, pale, chocolate, pecan tan, ruddy, white and pale, (and yes, from the old school), high yellow and midnight black.
My last point related to the importance of knowing the value of our skin may prove to be a life-saving point. I always remind African Americans that we are not immune to skin cancer just because most of us have a greater density of melanin in our skin.
Melanin provides a chemical pigment defense against ultraviolet light but it does not eliminate the need for us to be vigilant when we are going to be in the sun a long time.
It is great to have the melanin, but the danger of getting skin cancer is still present and we should all practice safe health by protecting ourselves from the ultraviolet rays.
Yes, I do remember growing up thinking I did not need sunscreen.
Vivian Filer is a retired professor of nursing, Santa Fe Community College. Write to her in care of the Gainesville Guardian, "Health Files," 2700 SW 13th St., Gainesville, FL 32608. You can also e-mail your questions, with "Health Files" in the subject line, to news@gainesvilleguardian.com.

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