Skin and Its Diseases

The skin is the body’s largest and most obvious organ. It is a tough yet flexible protective enclosure. Altogether, your skin is the heaviest organ in the body, and also has the largest surface area, over 3,000 square inches. In some places your skin is paper thin, while the soles of the feet and other calloused areas are more durable.

Consider the incredible number of structures fitted into an area no bigger than your fingernail: several dozen sweat glands, hundreds of nerve endings, many yards of tiny blood vessels, numerous oil glands, hairs, and literally thousands of cells. In fact, one-third of all blood circulating through the body goes to the skin.

This is why it becomes such a valuable organ to help control your circulation. Moreover, your skin is easily influenced by temperature, both heat and cold. This property is used effectively by the hydrotherapist. Your skin is subject to many diseases. Most anciently feared was leprosy, where the skin appeared as white anesthetic patches.

Although leprosy still exists in some areas of the world, many more common afflictions appear today, some resembling the boils of the patriarch Job and causing equal distress. Numerous common diseases will be discussed below, with appropriate treatments that can be rendered in one’s home.

First, however, some general principles of the care of the skin are in order. Millions of pores, acting like tiny mouths, cover the visible protective surface. These sweat glands exude a tiny amount of perspiration having cooling properties, as well as eliminative functions.

Regular bathing helps to keep the pores clean, but after a hot bath your pores need to be “closed” by finishing with a cool spray or a cold mitten friction. This helps to prevent your catching a cold. Our garments should be frequently cleansed, particularly underclothes, so that the impurities from the pores are not reabsorbed after the waste matter is thrown off.

Regular exercise helps induce the blood to the skin’ s surface, not only relieving the internal organs, but giving a healthful glow to the skin and distributing the blood more equally to the extremities. Several nutrients are important in maintaining the health and integrity of the skin.

Vitamin A guards against dry skin and helps to prevent blemishes. Vitamin C in the right amounts protects the small capillaries, preventing bruises. The B complex vitamins are very important in the prevention of eczema, and protein helps to form connective and elastic tissue retarding the aging process and wrinkling.

Aging Skin

Characteristic skin changes occur as a person grows older. In most individuals there is a loss of subcutaneous elastic tissue and wrinkles appear. Sometimes these are distressing, and many plastic surgery operations have been devised to lift the face, correct baggy eyelids, or otherwise make a person look younger.

More important are the changes that can lead to disease. Chronic exposure to wind and sun with other forms of irritation to the skin may produce dry, scaling plaques, particularly on the face or exposed areas. A premalignant skin irritation known as senile keratosis may occur under these circumstances.

The lesion should be removed or otherwise treated to prevent skin cancer. Common raised pigmented waxy looking plaques occur in aging skin, both on the face, extremities, and trunk. These seborrheic keratoses are completely benign and are normally quite superficial.

Freezing with liquid nitrogen, electrodesication (cautery), scraping, or curetting of the lesions may remove them completely and allow for the return of normal skin in that area. Thinning of the hair and eyebrows are also common in the aging process.

Individuals should anticipate the waning of youth with an acceptance of certain changes and the cultivation of a disposition that will produce “happy wrinkles” and an adjustment to the golden years that preserves maximal health and interests in life.

The low fat vegetarian diet greatly improves circulation. Its influence on the skin is beneficial as well. Many are promoting the use of Vitamin E to retard aging. While this oil is helpful in certain topical applications, wholesale supplementation is seldom necessary.

In preference, I recommend the use of nuts, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables as the diet best calculated to promote longevity and insure good health of the skin. Cleansing baths, exercise, and regular changing of clothing are just as helpful to the senior citizen, as they are important for the baby.

Itching Skin

Although the symptom of itching (pruritis) has been discussed in connection with some of the above disorders, this symptom warrants separate discussion, because it is so common and there are many approaches to therapy. Most normal people have some irritated places that they scratch every day.

Often the sensation is so mild that it is barely noticed. There is no harm in an occasional scratching, but constant itching is different. It is typically a distress signal indicating specific trouble. With about 20 square feet of skin covering our bodies, there are literally millions of nerve receptors.

Many of these can convey the sensation of itching, at times becoming so sensitive as to be almost beyond control. Allergies may produce itching and are described in Chapter Ten. Insect bites, pinworms, nettles, plant juices, chemicals, metals and many body secretions can produce similar distress.

Excessive sweating, as well as unusual dryness, can provoke itching. In the winter season, many people suffer from dry skin. Often this is made worse by bathing especially with soap or worse yet, the bubble bath, a detergent bath water that removes most natural body oils.

Mild soaps such as Dial, Aveeno, Neutrogena, and AlphaKeri are good for sensitive skin. Occasionally, the habit of scratching can develop. When present, this should be overcome. Nervous tension often aggravates itching, as does anxiety. Relief can usually come by breaking the “itch-scratch cycle,” and simply refusing to scratch.

If this is impossible, careful trimming and filing of the nails, or the wearing of soft gloves at night may be necessary. Starch baths are useful using either cornstarch or powdered oatmeal. It is important to avoid soap, except in cleansing the groin, armpits, or feet. Avoid all excessive washing.

Hydrotherapy employing moist, hot packs or the contrast shower acts as a counter irritant and relieves the itching. Further examination, laboratory tests, and hormone analyses can become worthwhile in difficult cases. In all these conditions the cause should be ascertained. Then nature can be assisted in restoring health again.

Hair Loss

Hair is present over most areas of the body. Our follicles are the source of these hairs. Although most of them are very fine, the top of the head, the eyebrows, the eyelashes, and the groin are sources of coarser pigmented hair. A tiny muscle is attached to each hair follicle, and can literally make the hair stand on end!

Goose flesh is an example of this, when the muscle contracts in an attempt to reduce heat loss and generate body heat. This same muscle (the arrector pili) helps to compress the oil glands, lubricating not only the hair but also the surrounding skin. Specialized hairs, such as eyebrows and eyelashes, prevent dust from irritating the eyes and give symmetry and shade.

When hair loss occurs over the scalp, varying degrees of baldness may develop. Some types are hereditary, others are related to hormonal changes, aging, or the presence of disease. It is important to exclude fungus infections and carefully examine the hair shaft and follicles for signs of disease.

Meticulous evaluation of the diet, together with hygienic care of the scalp and the use of appropriate bathing aids can reduce the amount of hair loss and its associated distress. When unusual necessity requires, transplants are even available to restore hair to bald areas.

Because of significantly increased heat generated over the scalp, the employment of wigs and hairpieces is best avoided. Contentment with our appearance is a great gift. When all natural health measures are being encouraged, we can certainly be at peace and trust our countenance to the Creator.