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Integumentary system

1. Introduction
The skin or the Integumentary system consists of the skin and its associated structures such as
hair, nails,nerve endings and the sebaceous (oil) and sudoriferous (sweat) glands (Lindh,
Pooler, Tamparo and Dahl, 2010,p.790). The skin is the most external, the most visually
apparent and the largest organ of the human body and the medical branch which studies it is
known as "dermatology" (Keir, Wise, Krebs and Kelley-Arney, 2010,p.97) .The skin can be
divided into three layer-the epidermis on the surface,the dermis beneath it and lastly the
adipose (fat) tissue under the dermis (MacKenzie, Arwine and Shewan,2006,p.210; Givens
and Reiss, 2002, p. 58). The dermis is where all active skin functions take place and contains
the hair follicles, the muscles that are attached to them, the oil glands, fat cells (the adipose
layer), blood vessels and nerve endings. At the top of the dermis is a layer of cells that
produce the epidermis. These cells push toward the surface but become flattened and dried
out as they do it (i.e. dead cells).

Fig. 1 : Cross section of skin (Source : www.infovisual.info/03/036_en.html)

At this stage, a tough and water resistant protein called keratin has replaced the fluid
cytoplasm (content) of the once living cells. This keratin layer are continually rubbed off by
friction and replaced from below (MacKenzie, Arwine and Shewan,2006,p.210). Figure 1
below is the cross section of the skin and its layer.
2. The importance of integumentary system
The importance of the Integumentary system relates to its functions in our daily life, in
particular, functions which relates to the human body's homeostasis. Homeostasis is defined

as the maintenance of a constant internal environment within the human body (Givens and
Reiss, 2002, p. 56).Carter and Lewsen (2005,p.490) list three important ways in which the
integumentary system is functioning to maintain the human body's homeostasis as follows :
Firstly, the integumentary system provides a physical form of protection against
microbes, chemicals and other agents that could harm the body.
Secondly, the skin which is water resistant, helps to maintain the body fluid balance
by preventing excessive loss or absorption of water;
Thirdly, which is perhaps the most important function , is that the integumentary
system helps to regulate the temperature of the body, ensuring that the temperature stays
within tolerable range. Humans are Endothermic (i.e. warm-blooded) and are able to keep
their internal (core) body temperature at a fairly constant level despite experiencing
temperature variations of his immediate environments (e.g. raining or sunny day) or despite
of the body's internal fluctuations of temperature caused by, for example, exercising or
ovulation (for female). The fairly constant level of temperature referred above is 37 degree
Celcius (Givens and Reiss, 2002, p. 58). There are nerve endings in the skin that are sensitive
to temperature and when they are stimulated, the message will go to the body's heat
regulating centre in the brain. The heat-regulating centre will then send messages to the sweat
glands, blood vessels and muscles directing them to keep the temperature of the body
constant (MacKenzie, Arwine and Shewan,2006,p.211)
In human, excess heat is removed from the body by the integumentary system through
the primary mechanism of sweating. The removal of heat is accomplished by the evaporation
process of the sweat from the skin. Sweat is only useful when it is in contact with the skin. If
the sweat is wiped off or rolls off the body, then the heat cannot be transferred away by these
method (McKeag and Moeller,2007,p.280). Another way by which the integumentary system

regulates body temperature is by using the presence of the blood in the skin. This is exactly
how this second method works when a person's internal body temperature raises and he gets
hot, the complexion of his skin will become reddish due to the enlarging of the blood vessels
in the skin. This process permits more blood to flow near the surface of the skin. The heat in
the blood will radiate (pass out) into the air. On the other hand, when he is cold, his skin turns
pale indicating that his blood vessels contracts thus keeping the blood deeper in the body so
less heat is lost to the air (MacKenzie, Arwine and Shewan,2006,p.211). The skin is also the
site for the synthesis of vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D is crucial to normal bone growth
and development. Vitamin D photosynthesis occurs when ultraviolet (UV) ray in the sunlight
shines on a compound present in the skin cells thereby transforming the compound into
Vitamin D (Balaban and Bobick, 2008, p.49).
Finally the last function of the skin is as the repository of sensory perception skin is
also consisted of nerve endings that keep human body aware of environmental change in
temperature, surface conditions and other touch-sensory perceptible change (Hegner, Acello
and Caldwell,2010,p.61).
Dysfunction of the integumentary system will result in disorders that affect the skin,
hair and nails. Common diagnoses include eczema, psoriasis, skin cancer, alopecia, acne
rosacea, vitiligo,allergic dermatitis and infection (i.e. herpes simplex or zoster) (Muchnick,
2008,p.7).Such diseases shows that the integumentary system has been compromised in
certain aspects. For example, exocrine glands within the integumentary system include
sebaceous (oil-secreting) glands. Acne rosacea for example is the inflammation of the
sebaceous glands (van de Graaff and Rhees,1997,p.57).
Another example of the effect of a dysfunctional integumantary system is anhidrosis.
Anhidrosis refer to the integumentary system inability to produce sweat. Eccrine
glands,located over most of the skin, help regulate body temperature by secreting sweat.

Anhidrosis is the result of these glands losing whole or part of its sweat secreting functions.
Anhidrosis is a life threatening condition, its symptoms include severe headache and muscle
cramps, fatigue, nausea and vomiting (Lippincott,2008, p.4).
3. Conclusion
In summary, skin as an integument organ plays an essential role in the survival of
humans. It serves several critical functions ranging from protection from foreign harmful
microbes to regulating the homeostasis of the human body. As the first barrier in human body
defensive mechanism against foreign harmful microbes, the integumentary system is
constantly at risk of contracting disease which lead to its dysfunction. As such it is important
that due care is given to maintain the health of the integumentary system by taking care of the
hygienic aspect of the human body.
References
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Caregiving. Philadelphia PA : Lippincott William & Wilkins

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and Clinical

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MacKenzie,L., Arwine, D.K. & Shewan, E.J.(2006). Biology: A Search For Order In
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McKeag,D.B. & Moeller, J.L.(2007). ACSM's Primary Care Sports Medicine. 2nd Edn.
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: Walter Kluwer-Lippincott William & Wilkins

Givens,P. & Reiss,M.(2010). Human Biology and Health Studies.2nd Edn. Cheltenham UK :

Nelson

Thomes Ltd

Van de Graaff,K.M. & Rhees, R.W.(1997). Schaum's Outline of Human Anatomy and
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Jersey : McGraw Hill