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In this lesson, we’ll explore the function of the different parts of the integumentary system, which protects the body. We will look at how the skin and its accessory organs work together.

The Integumentary System

You have just spent a fun day at the beach going jet skiing, maybe doing a little sunbathing, playing in the water, and just enjoying the good life. You are now back inside and looking at yourself in the mirror.You notice that you are glowing and look happy and relaxed.

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You may notice any weight you have gained or lost lately. You then notice your new skin tone after being outside all day. You also check out your hair and glance at your nails. What you just assessed are the different parts of your integumentary system, or the skin and its accessory organs.While you were out playing, your integumentary system was busy carrying out some very important functions to help ensure your day of fun in the sun didn’t turn into a day of gloom and doom.

We’re going to look at the functions of each major part of your integumentary system separately.

Function of the Skin

Let’s start with the largest organ of the body. That’s the skin, in case you didn’t already know. Your skin is one large membrane that covers the body. Did you know the skin weighs about 20 lbs in a full adult? Now you do! Your skin may look very simple, but it has a very tough job to do. There are four main functions of your skin.The first function of the skin is protection.

This massive membrane acts as a barrier to enter the body. This is the reason why you don’t have sand all inside of your organs after your day at the beach. The skin keeps outside items out and keeps your internal organs inside.

Other living organisms or objects are not just able to go across your skin and enter your body.Aren’t you happy about that? I bet you wouldn’t enjoy that crab you saw on the beach poking on your stomach!Another function of the skin is insulation. There are many layers of your skin, and the innermost layer is a layer of fat. The very thing we all do our best to keep down is actually needed in the body. Fat helps to insulate the body by holding in heat. Your body functions best when it is at 98.

6 degrees F.If your day at the beach had been a day in the mountains during winter, then you would greatly appreciate the fat on the inside of your skin. It would help to keep the heat inside the body and not let it escape through the other layers of the skin.

Luckily, this insulation works in both directions. It also helped to keep the heat of the sun from getting to the internal organs while you were on the beach.The many layers of the skin and that layer of fat also work to give cushioning to your internal organs.

Think for a minute about everything that happened on that jet ski. That was a pretty rough ride, but none of your internal organs are damaged. That’s because the layer of fat acts as a shock-absorber.Can you imagine the trouble we would be in if our organs hit the inside walls of our body every time we walk and stop, or drive and slam on the breaks? We wouldn’t last very long.The last of the functions of the skin is sensation. This makes sense. You feel everything through your skin.

There are nerve-ending receptors that reach the inner layers of your skin and detect information about your outside environment. This sensation lets you know when air was blowing against your skin. It let you know when water was against your skin.

It even let you know when you were almost out in the sun a little too long when you got a burning and painful sensation.

Function of the Accessory Organs

Now, your skin doesn’t work alone to meet these functions. There are other accessory organs that work along with the skin.Your nails are hardened plates of keratin that extend over the ends of your fingers and toes.

Their main function is protection. They are there to make sure that nothing damages the sensitive ends of your fingers and toes. Think about what happened the last time your nail was accidentally ripped off or cut too short.

You knew everything that was in your immediate environment until the nail grew back. You may have even ended up with an infection because that part of the skin is so thin.Our hair aids the skin in body temperature maintenance and protection. Hair is an extension of dead skin cells that grow from the follicles in our skin.

Hair covers almost every part of our bodies to help keep our body temperature stable. The hair that is found around the eyes, in the ears, and nose are there to help catch organisms and other debris from entering those openings into the body. That is how our body hair aids in protection.Part of the reason for that glow you noticed on your skin is from the function of your sebaceous glands. The sebaceous glands are glands that secrete oil onto the surface of the skin and hair.

The oil is specialized and called sebum since it contains several different fatty lipids. While overactive sebaceous glands may not have been your friend growing up because they cause things like acne, they are necessary in order to keep the skin and hair smooth and waterproof. The fats in sebum also help to protect against potentially harmful bacteria.The last structure that works with the skin are our sweat glands.

These are glands that release a watery liquid through the skin. You may already recognize that your sweat glands work to help you cool down when you are hot and sweaty so your body temperature doesn’t go above 98.6 degrees F. What you probably didn’t know is that their job doesn’t stop there.

The release of sweat also helps to rid the body of waste products that it doesn’t need, like nitrogenous wastes.

Lesson Summary

Now you know a little more about how your integumentary system, or skin and accessory organs, works while you are at play, or any other time for that matter. The skin is a membrane that covers the body and is the largest organ of the body. Its functions include protection, insulation, cushion, and sensation. The accessory organs and their functions are:

  • Hair, which is an extension of dead skin cells from skin follicles that helps to control temperature and protect the body
  • Nails, which are hardened keratinized plates that cover the ends of the fingers and toes to protect the sensitive skin in that area
  • Sebaceous glands, which are glands that secrete sebum to protect, smooth, and waterproof the hair and skin
  • Sweat glands, which are glands that secrete a watery liquid to cool the body down and excrete waste products
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