Health – Skin: Dam, Filter, or Sponge

There is most assuredly a creative power behind all we see. The human mind has not yet, in the six thousand years of its existence, scratched the surface of the mysteries of life and nature. And what knowledge has been unfolded to us we have been unable to duplicate. The human body is the only thing in all of creation that God did not speak into existence. Rather, He molded the first humans and made their bodies come alive with His own hands. Humans cannot even create perpetual motion, not to mention life, both of which we see everywhere in creation. Every organ is a miracle of operation, created to be perpetual. Though, since Adam and Eve’s fall, the perpetuation has been limited, the body does operate independent of our aid—repairing, replenishing, and supporting; just as God designed.

The human body, the final touch of God’s creation, is an amazing piece of work. In addition to being called as caretakers of God’s creation, we must also care for the incredible machines that we live in. Unfortunately, the human race has done a very poor job of taking care of the earth, and the ensuing pollution has caused our bodies to be exposed to innumerable toxins—some inhaled, some ingested, but almost all are seeped into our bodies through the largest organ: the skin. Prior to the mid-19th century, the skin was seen as an impenetrable barrier. It is now well established, however, that the same construction of proteins and lipids that make the skin waterproof also make it vulnerable to certain agents, both non-toxic and toxic.

The skin is made up of three different layers: the epidermis, the dermis, and the subcutis. Each of these layers is further categorized by their respective layers. The epidermis is the outermost layer and consists of three sub-layers: the stratum corneum, keratinocytes, and the basal layer. The stratum corneum is the skin that meets the eye and the environment. It consists of dead keratinocytes, or keratin, which protects the skin from our environment. Keratinocytes are a layer of squamous cells which provide the skin with what it needs to keep pathogens out and water in. The dermis is the middle layer of the skin, and consists of blood vessels, lymph vessels, hair follicles, and sweat glands. This layer is held together by a protein called collagen. It is also the locale for pain and touch receptors. The subcutis, or subcutaneous layer, is the innermost layer of the skin, and consists of collagen and fat cells that help to conserve body heat while protecting other organs from injury by acting as a shock absorber.

Because of its permeability and the proximity of the bloodstream, the skin has been found by the medical world to be an ideal portal for drug administration. Transdermally administered drugs are becoming choice in many instances due to the almost immediate bioavailability which the numerous blood vessels in the skin makes possible. Unfortunately, many, many other things are becoming far too available through the skin. Some of these things we apply in hopes of reaping some benefit; other things we are exposed to without choice and are completely unaware of.

In her book, Silent Spring, which spawned the environmental movement in the early 1960s, Rachel Carson wrote: “For the first time in earth’s history, every human being is now subjected to contact with dangerous chemicals, from the moment of conception until death. In less than two decades, toxins have been so thoroughly distributed throughout the animate and inanimate world that they occur virtually everywhere.” She goes on to elaborate on the harmful effects of the DDT sprayings on farmland, farm animals, streams and their ecosystems.

Since the environmental craze began, we have become progressively more concerned with what we ingest. We wash our fruits and vegetables before consumption, we buy “organically grown” produce, and bottled water has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Of course, being conscious of what we put into our bodies is important, but given the knowledge of the skin’s ability to absorb its environment, it makes sense that we would be just as concerned with what we expose our bodies to externally. Though it is impossible to evade poisons altogether, eliminating what we are able of these toxins has become more and more imperative.

What are these toxins? Where do they come from? What are they found in? What effect do they have on our bodies? The list is far too long to go over each (they number in the thousands), but some key poisons which have been targeted specifically in the last 50 years are DDT, arsenic, soot (which has been under scrutiny for over two centuries), 24-D (an herbicide), maelic hydrozid (proven as a powerful mutagen), phelon, urethane, and mustard gas. These toxins are related primarily to environmental control, and used or emitted by industrial plants. Now, in mentioning these toxins, it is not through inhalation only that they find their way into the blood stream. Simply taking a walk in the “great outdoors” brings your external body into contact with these hazardous chemicals, which then enter the blood stream immediately through pores in the skin. When people who live in cities wear surgical masks outdoors to protect themselves from the pollution of the area in which they live, unbeknown to them, they are preventing little; the portal of entry that is by far more effective is still quite exposed to harm.

These chemicals—alias toxins, alias carcinogens, alias mutagens, alias poisons—are precisely what their many names imply. No matter which chemical is in the spotlight, the effect on the body is damaging, and, in many cases, severely so. Each one, in addition to thousands more not mentioned, interfere with the body’s natural cell cycles, which creates mutant cells, in turn increasing the potential for cancer. Port Neches, Texas, is one example of many. The high school in this town was turning out alarming rates of leukemia, so many incidences, in fact, that the school was nicknamed “Leukemia High.” The town was founded around the production of rubber and synthetic rubber during World War II. These plants exposed the residents of the town to high levels of butadiene. Depending on the chemical, our cells are targeted in different ways, and thus different ailments are resulting; among those ailments are a wide range of cancers, birth defects, mental illnesses (again a wide range) and diabetes.

We do not expose ourselves only indirectly through our environment, but also directly in the products we use in personal and household hygiene. Most of the products that we use, from the shower to the kitchen sink, contain harmful chemicals, all of which have more direct contact with our bodies and in greater quantities. Too many of the toiletries and cosmetics we use are carcinogenic cocktails of hazardous waste. Most of the chemicals which go into our toiletries are no different from the harsh toxic chemicals used in industry. Far from enhancing health, they pose a daily threat to it. For example, propylene glycol (PG) is a wetting agent and solvent used in makeup, hair care products, deodorants, and aftershave. It is also the main ingredient in antifreeze and brake fluid. Similarly, polyethylene glycol (PEG), a related agent found in most skin cleansers, is a caustic used to dissolve grease … the same substance you find in oven cleaners. Isopropyl, an alcohol used in hair rinses, hand lotions and fragrances, is also a solvent found in shellac.

The methods employed by the body by which to eliminate toxins are few. When the liver, kidneys, and lungs have been exhausted by chronic exposure and cannot keep up with the intake, the remaining toxins lodge in fat and muscle tissue and become what is called “toxic” or “chemical body burden.” (Today, studies show that most of us have between 400 and 800 chemical residues stored in the fat cells of our bodies. See JAMA, AMA, ACS for reference.) Fortunately for us, the dermis is an excellent warrior on our behalf; though it may not be able to prevent all harmful materials from entry, it does manage to do some damage control through perspiration—yes, sweat. Perspiration is recognized in the medical field worldwide as perhaps the most effective method of removing heavy metals and toxins from our bodies. Most of the time we are completely unaware that we are perspiring because of evaporation, but we are actually losing an average of 1.5 liters per day! (Depending on temperature. In higher temperatures the rate of expulsion can reach 3.5 liters.) It is estimated that the body eliminates about 30% of bodily waste through perspiration. Because of this, it is sometimes referred to as the “third kidney.”

Because of the decline in the quality of our environment, it is more imperative than ever that we are aware of what we are exposed to and the consequences of this exposure. The Bible refers to our bodies as temples for Christ, and as a temple we want to do our utmost to maintain our health. Exposure to toxins cannot be avoided completely; however, consciousness of the products that we use daily, our geologic environment, and even our career choices can improve the wellness of our bodies and greatly decrease the probability of serious illnesses. God was aware of the damage that the human race would cause to the earth, and, in His mercy, created our bodies to battle against what we ourselves have created.