The Integumentary System
The integumentary system is composed of different but related tissue groups that combine to form an organ system that covers and protects the body. This system is composed of skin, hair, nails, sweat and oil glands, and nerve endings, but in massage, our primary focus is on the skin. Skin is our contact with the physical world, the vehicle for sensations of touching and being touched. Skin protects the body—it is the body's first defense. We even reflect our emotions through our skin, either by color, expression, or temperature. Massage is a way to keep the skin healthy, supple, and strong.
All skin benefits as ultraviolet rays from the sun increase the growth of melanin, producing a tan, protecting the skin from damaging radiation. Of course, too much exposure to UV rays can lead to skin cancer. Moderate exposure to the sun and the use of sunscreen will ensure proper melanin production without the damaging effects.
The Three Layers of Skin
The top layer of skin, the epidermis, is made up of five separate layers, which are responsible for things like protecting the skin and monitoring the passage of water. The epidermis also contains nerve endings for touch. The epithelial tissue that makes up the top layer of skin is continuously regenerating, reproducing cells that push up to the surface. As the cells move up through the layers they begin to die, eventually reaching the top layer of our skin, which then sheds the dead cells, and the renewal process continues. The rejuvenation of skin takes about three to six weeks.
The cells responsible for pigmentation of the skin are also found in the epidermis. As new cells sprout from the basal layer, some of these cells develop melanin granules. Cells called melanocytes produce the melanin that is responsible for the color of the skin. Everyone is born with the same number of melanocytes; it is the amount of melanin produced that determines skin color. Dark skin produces more melanin than light skin, giving extra protection from aging and environmental damage.
The second layer of skin, the dermis, is the layer that sits under and is connected to the epidermis. Blood vessels and additional nerve endings are found here, as well as the fibers that give skin its extensibility and elasticity. The dermis also contains hair follicles as well as sweat and oil glands.
Extensibility is the capacity of the skin to stretch, such as during pregnancy, weight gain, or excessive swelling. Elasticity enables the skin to return to its original shape. At times the skin may stretch too much, causing tiny tears in the dermis that show up as stretch marks.
The third and deepest layer of the skin is the subcutaneous layer. This layer is made up of adipose tissue, which is fat, a necessary element to healthy skin. This layer of tissue connects the dermis to the bone and muscle beneath. The subcutaneous layer provides shape to the body and provides an extra cushion of protection for the skin above.
What Skin Does
The function of skin, actually of the entire integumentary system, is extensive. The skin is an efficient regulatory system essential to the maintenance of the entire body. It provides protection, produces vitamins, maintains and regulates body temperature, and removes toxic waste. A protein called keratin creates a waterproof shield along the surface of the skin, protecting the body from fluid loss and fluid gain. The skin serves as a line of defense against microorganisms and environmental invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, chemicals, and radiation. It also acts as the first barricade against physical injury. The skin is our largest sensory organ.
Types of Skin
Skin has many colors and textures due to many factors. Genetic makeup dictates some of the conditions of our skin. So do sun exposure, what we eat, whether or not we smoke, and other environmental factors.
Wrinkles are evidence of early unprotected moments in the sun although they show up on the skin in later years. Research has proven that people who stay out of the sun look six to ten years younger than folks who are constantly sun exposed. Without a lifetime of sun exposure, our skin could remain supple and young-looking until our seventies.
We have all seen ads that talk about different types of skin—too dry, too oily, or just right, whatever that might be! Actually skin is an individual characteristic owned solely by you. Your skin is affected by your internal conditions such as hormone fluctuations, and by external conditions where you live such as weather or sun exposure. Makeup, skin creams, skin cleansers—any type of skin care product—also put demands on your skin. There are three main types of skin:
Oily skin comes from an overproduction of sebum, which normally allows skin to be soft, smooth, and pliable. Blackheads are formed when pores are clogged by too much sebum.
Dry skin is often caused by environment and age. Dry climate or winter air pulls much of the moisture out of our skin, leaving it taut and dry. With age comes dry skin, because the top layer of the epidermis is less able to hold water in.
Sensitive skin can be the result of allergies, overexposure to chemicals, or too much sun. Cosmetics contain chemicals and fragrances that may cause sensitivity in some people. Most folks have sensitive skin at some time in their lives.
The Effects of Massage on the Skin
The skin receives tremendous benefit from massage. Massage helps to remove the top layer of dead cells, improving the condition of the skin and making it look and feel healthier. Circulation is improved, bringing a new supply of blood to the sebaceous glands. As the fresh blood circulates, the sebaceous glands produce more sebum to keep the skin soft and supple. Improved circulation also stimulates the sweat glands, allowing for the release of toxins. At the same time, the blood vessels expand, providing nutrients to the skin. Massage helps to release fatty tissue from the body as well as break up scar tissue.
Massage is essential to the support and function of the body systems. As massage reduces the stress in the body it allows the body and its various systems to function at the highest level possible. Massage is a preventive tool as well as a remedial benefit. Whether you have great health or are suffering from a chronic issue, massage is an important and helpful adjunct to better health.