Saturday, February 25, 2006

Apple #151: Skin

I know I haven't been exactly snappy with the new apples lately. Part of that is because I've been watching the Olympics every night. I've seen some pretty impressive feats each night. Another reason for the lack of posts is that now, I'm sick. Nothing serious, just a cold, but I've been so wiped out from it that I haven't been able to do much more than sleep and stare at the TV screen. If there are strange mistakes in this entry (or like how I accidentally deleted nearly this entire entry just before I was about to post it), it's because I'm too out of it to catch them.

But I wanted to post something on the subject of skin because I've been thinking about it for quite a while. Marveling, actually. At skin.

Think about how many times in a day you wash your hands. Unlike fabric, the skin doesn't shrink. And if you use some lotion to put back a little of the moisture you've taken away, you'd never know you just washed your hands for the eighth or the eighteenth time that day. Can you say that about any fabric you can think of?

And your skin dries so fast, and easily. You just wipe it off, and it's dry. There's absolutely no fabric that can do that. The only thing I can think of that does that is something like linoleum, but you'd never want that covering your body because pretty soon you'd start sweating so hard you couldn't stand it. And how could you ever pick anything up with linoleum fingers?

And could you imagine a shirt that sewed itself back together if you tore it? That would be really handy, wouldn't it? Well, your skin can do that: fix itself! I think that's pretty fantastic.

Skin does have a problem with the sun in that it can burn if it's exposed for too long, but fabrics will fade if they're in the sun too long. It's also pretty easy to scrape skin if you skid across pavement or something like that, and a fabric like denim or even leather would resist that sort of thing better (which is why motorcyclists tend to like wearing denim and leather, besides the fact that it makes them look bad-ass).

But your skin does so many more great things:
  • It replenishes itself. It's always making new skin cells below the surface. Every day we lose somewhere between 43 million to 57 million skin cells per day. That's 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells per minute. And just as they flake off, they're replaced by new cells. All the time.
  • Your skin is also waterproof. When you put your hand in water, or even take a shower or a bath, you don't get all puffed up with water and sloggy and waterlogged. Instead, the water just slicks off you. This is because of the oils that are produced in your skin's glands. Yes, there are waterproof fabrics, but how reliable is that waterproofing? How long does it stay waterproofed? For a lifetime, or for just a few months? And can those waterproof fabrics do everything else your skin does?
  • In spite of keeping out water, your skin can absorb other things. Like antibiotics in ointments, or medicine on patches that you wear next to your skin. Or even moisturizers or lotions or sunscreen. Notice what happens when you rub one of these types of lotion onto your skin and then get some of it on your shirt. You have to wipe it off your shirt, and what will you use to wipe it off? Your bare finger.
  • As most of us already know, skin also helps to regulate your body temperature. When you get too hot, the sweat glands kick in and start producing sweat to get rid of extra heat and also water that will evaporate and cool you off. When you get too cold, the blood vessels in your skin contract and shrink away from the surface of the skin to try to keep you warmer. What fabrics can adjust themselves automatically to the temperature like this?
  • It's true that your skin is vulnerable to the mighty sun, but skin does contain melanin which tries to protect your skin as much as it can. Melanin turns the skin darker the longer your skin is exposed to the sun, to try to keep it from getting burned. And then some people even have extra enzymes that repair the damage caused by sunburns. Fabrics might help to keep the light of the sun away from our skin, but they sure can't repair any problems that occur as a result of too much sunlight.
  • Your skin is also thicker and tougher where you need it to be, such as on the bottoms of your feet and the palms of your hands. It doesn't grow hair here, and it is thicker to help your grip things or get traction. Most fabrics that we wear are not, in themselves, of varything thicknesses. Rather, we buy different types of fabrics for different parts of our bodies: shoes for our feet and much thinner and more pliable pants for our legs.
  • What's maybe the best part of all is that your skin is sensitive. It tells you things. It can tell you whether something is hot or cold, sure, but it also tells you if something is scratchy or sticky or soft or fuzzy or tickly or smooth. If instead of skin, we were all covered in a wet suit or a layer of wool or even cotton, think how boring things like beard stubble or old gum or puppy fur or a knit scarf or a feather boa or a river stone would be.
Thanks, skin! Now, if it could just get rid of this cold for me...

Sources, The Whole Story on Skin, last updated December 2004
Wikipedia, Skin

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