Restoring the Temple – The Integumentary System

“And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I [am] the Lord.”

—Ezekiel 37:6.

What is the largest organ of the body? With an average area of about 22 square feet (2 square meters) and a weight of 10–11 pounds (4.5–5 kg), skin—called the integument—wins hands down. It is obvious that skin covers us and protects our internal organs from injury. But skin has several other very important functions, including protection against dehydration, body temperature regulation, sensory reception, metabolic function, blood reservoir, absorption, and excretion.

Surprised about that last one? Indeed, our skin is our body’s largest waste organ. You can see why cleanliness is so important. Recent research has shown that exposure to the dirt we come into contact with daily does not harm us. Yet Ellen White spent a lot of time discussing the benefits of cleanliness. Does this conflict with what scientists have now found? Absolutely not! Ellen White understood this concept long ago when she wrote: “Do not misunderstand me in this. I do not say that you must keep them [children] indoors, like dolls. There is nothing impure in clean sand and dry earth; it is the emanations from the body that defile, requiring the clothing to be changed and the body washed.” Child Guidance, 107. She further states, “Impurities are constantly and imperceptibly passing from the body, through the pores, and if the surface of the skin is not kept in a healthy condition, the system is burdened with impure matter.” Healthful Living, 188.

Skin is composed of two layers: the epidermis and the dermis. The epidermis is the outer layer of skin, made relatively waterproof by the protein keratin. The cells of the epidermis are constantly sloughing off and being replaced by new cells as they are pushed up from below. Not only do epidermal cells have a life span of only 35–45 days, but you are likely to shed some 40 pounds of skin in a lifetime! In fact, about 30,000–40,000 dead skin cells fall from your body every minute!

Some of the cells of the epidermis are called melanocytes, and they are where the skin color comes from. Melanocytes make a pigment called melanin. Melanin protects the DNA in our skin cells from harmful UV radiation. Your genes, or what you inherit from your parents, determine the amount of melanin, and its particular shade. Carotene is another pigment, giving a yellowish cast (which can be seen clearly if you eat a lot of carrots every day). The pink coloration of skin comes from the blood in your capillaries showing through.

The dermis is composed of connective tissue, thread-through with lots of tiny blood vessels called capillaries. The dermis is also where hair follicles, nerve endings, and sweat and sebaceous glands are found. The dermis consists of two layers, the papillary layer and the reticular layer. In the papillary layer, fingerlike projections called the dermal papillae extend up into the epidermis. The epidermis is very thin on your fingertips, making them more sensitive to stimuli. This thinness also makes those dermal papillae stand out. You know them as your fingerprints. When you lightly burn your fingertip, your fingerprints do not disappear forever, because it is the epidermis that is damaged, not the dermis from which the prints project.

The Lord made us with several skin appendages, including hair, sebaceous glands, sweat glands, and nails. Have you ever wondered how your hair stands on end when you are cold? Tiny muscles, called arrector pili muscles are attached to each strand of hair. The nervous system causes them to involuntarily contract, pulling each strand of hair upright. This is the same way a cat’s hair stands on end when it is scared or angry. The reason why your hair does this is that erect hair traps more air, keeping a layer of warmth around you.

What about the differences we have in hair color? Pigments produced by melanocytes in the root of the hair cause these variations in color. Your own hair color is mostly predetermined genetically, but hormone and environmental conditions can play a part. So why do you grow gray as you age? It is because pigment production decreases with age. White hair is a combination of pigment loss and air bubbles within the medulla, or central core of the hair shaft.

Sweat glands are coiled tubes found in the dermis. Sweat generally does not have an odor. The bacterium on your skin that is attracted to this moisture causes the odor associated with sweat. Sweat is more than just water. It also contains salts, antibodies, and waste products. Sweating helps to regulate your body temperature. Depending on the circumstances, you lose 2–4 pints (1–2 liters) of water every 24 hours through the skin. You can see why drinking adequate amounts of water (8 8-ounce glasses) each day is so essential. When we are overheated, more blood is directed to the skin’s surface so that heat can be wicked away. This is why skin, especially lighter skin, turns red when hot.

Each day your skin is being constantly abused, attacked, and abraded. Radiation from sunlight beats down on it, germs are constantly attacking it, chemicals in the air and chemicals we use abuse it. Yet, for most of us, all we see is a freckle here or a pimple there. There is nothing remotely like the skin that can be made by man. The best-manufactured fabrics deteriorate quickly under the same conditions. Some materials are durable but are incapable of all the additional functions of skin. God made the wondrous fabric that is our skin. We must take care of it, follow the laws of health, and thank the Lord for His love and infinite science.

“Thou hast clothed me with skin and flesh, and hast fenced me with bones and sinews.” “And [though] after my skin [worms] destroy this [body], yet in my flesh shall I see God.” Job 10:11; 19:26.

Sheryle Beaudry, a certified teletriage nurse, writes from Estacada, Oregon, where she lives with her husband and twin daughters.