After my article about the damage caused to our body by the depletion of the ozone layer, it is now appropriate to take a closer look at our skin and its role.

The skin is the biggest organ of our body and averages some 17 square feet (1.6 sq mtr) in an adult. Some may think that it is there simply as a protective cover, but in fact our skin is a more complex organ and has quite a number of functions. Of course, one of its principal purposes is to keep in our body fluids. Our body''s interior is all wet and damp, and the skin prevents air from drying our body''s systems.

The skin is made up of two main layers. The upper one is called epidermis, and the lower is called dermis. It is in fact dermis that makes the skin strong and elastic. But first let us take a closer look at each layer.

The Epidermis is made up of a thin layer of cells. On the inner side of this layer new cells grow and push their way out towards the surface. In this process old cells are pushed out and die by the time they reach the surface and eventually they are shed away. That is why our skin always looks good and fresh. Also on the inner side of the epidermis we find the cells that give colour to the skin. We find the thickest epidermis at the bottom of our feet and the thinnest on our eye lids.

Our skin

The pores on our skin are tiny holes in the epidermis that lead to the sweat glands in the dermis. This takes us to the lower skin layer. The dermis is made up of a matrix of different cells that include those known as connective tissue and those called fatty tissues. Also, this layer is thicker than epidermis, since in it we find our blood veins and arteries, our nerves, hair roots, and glands. The latter include the sweat and the fat glands.

As already pointed out, our skin serves several purposes. The most important of these is to protect us from the continuous microbe attacks. Under normal circumstances microbes do not penetrate the skin, unless this is broken, a common occurrence when we sustain an injury, even a small scratch. The skin also serves as a cushion for all the bumps and knocks we encounter, and thus protect our more delicate internal organs.

Getting a tan is a reaction of our body after exposure to the sun. The substance that gives our body the golden brown colour is called melanin. It is the same substance that gives colour to our hair and eyes. When melanin is secreted it absorbs ultraviolet rays, and hence protects our skin from the damaging rays of the sun.

Our skin also helps to regulate our body''s temperature. On a warm day the sweat glands release fluid to cool down the body. In fact in summer we can easily loose some 2 litres (half a gallon) of fluid a day. This in turn makes us thirsty, which stimulates us to drink more water. If we don''t, we may become dehydrated, another potentially dangerous situation. At the other extreme, the fat glands in the dermis layer, keep the body warm in cold weather. That is why the diet of people in cold countries tends to be heavier in calories.

How do we care for our skin?

- Cleanliness is most important. Wash as often as possible, especially after sweating.

- To avoid the risk of contracting infections, such as athlete''s foot, never use another person''s towel.

- Before using any cream for dry or oily skin, ask for professional advice.

- Eat a balanced diet.

- Every day drink at least 2 litres (half a gallon) of fresh clean water, more if it is warm weather.

- Regular exercise facilitates circulation, and therefore a healthy skin.

- A good sleep helps repair any damage caused by normal wear and tear.

Our skin is continuously regenerating itself; following the above advice assures a healthy skin throughout our life.

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