November 23, 2018 | David F. Coppedge

Be Thankful for Skin

Human skin is the largest organ of the body, and is loaded with protections, sensors and other functions.

Nature included several special articles about skin this week. One calls it “superpowered skin” with diagrams of the complex arrangements of cells in layers, with specialized cells. It’s our first line of defense in a world where Science Daily says “We are bombarded by thousands of diverse species and chemicals.” Here are some highlights of the series:

Skin (Nature). A simple one-word title introduces the subject. “As a multifaceted organ, skin provides the body with protection from infection and the environment, as well as sensory capabilities.” The short article continues,

Amazing FactsAs the body’s largest organ, skin is our first line of defence against infection and injury; it is also crucial for temperature regulation and vitamin production, and its sensory capabilities help us to interact with the environment.

Superpowered skin (Nature). “The skin is the body’s largest organ and has several, diverse functions,” this Outlook article begins. “As well as being a physical barrier, it has immune and sensory properties.” The Infographics in the article are educational and interesting, describing some 10 layers and types of cells. Even our skin’s “microbiome” plays a role in protection; some organisms just hitch a ride, causing no harm, but others can be pathogenic. Although 90% of our bodies is covered in hairy skin, a hair-free variety called glabrous skin covers our palms and soles. “It is innervated by specialized nerves that help us to understand subtle tactile details,” the caption says. Think about that as you walk and handle things. Are you glad for those specialized nerves?

The edible skincare diet (Nature). Since we “wear our health” on our skin, most of us wish to take care of it. The cosmetics industry is a testament to that. Keeping a healthy outer covering starts from the inside with what we eat. This article considers the skin-therapeutic aspects of Vitamin C and D, discussing foods that contain these essential nutrients, but acknowledging the difficulty of establishing cause-and-effect relationships (see 15 Nov 2018). Since our skin can make Vitamin D when exposed to sunshine, it’s good to get some sun exposure, but not too much.

Moving skin beyond the biological (Nature). Robot makers and prosthetics engineers want to imitate the amazing properties of human skin. It’s a challenge that’s making slow progress; “Skin-like electronics that stretch and sense will create a way to monitor vital signals and build prosthetics with a sense of touch.” The robotic hand pictured in the article looks clumsy compared to the subtle, responsive hand of the pianist or violinist. Skins of other creatures are also mentioned as subjects of research.

We take so much for granted. Now that we have been reminded of the wonders of our largest organ, we should express gratefulness to the designer of skin, and strive to take better care of it. Caring for the gifts we have is a way of showing gratitude.


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