Getting Under Your Skin

It’s bath-time. The perfect moment to teach your child about her skin! While you’re drying excess water off and sprinkling on some powder, you can ask your child if she knows what part of her body holds in her insides. Tell your child that this is just one function of our skin but that it has other jobs as well. Skin has a protective function, preventing us from infection and also contains cells that produce hair, sweat and oils and other substances that are important for our health and appearance.

Your child might be interested to know that skin can stretch out to 12-20 square feet in area...that is quite the area rug! It also makes up about 12% of our total body weight. If your child weighs about 40lbs, that comes out to 4.8lbs. Therefore, you can hand your children a 5lb bag of sugar, or flour, and tell them that it equals the weight of all of their skin!

 The skin is actually an organ. It is the largest organ of the body and it regenerates itself over and over again throughout our lives. The outer layer is made up of flat, dead cells and is sloughed off about every two weeks! (This flaked off skin makes up a significant part of the dust that accumulates in our homes!)
Skin is made up of three major layers. The outermost of these is called the epidermis. The epidermis varies in thickness at different parts of the body. For instance, over the palms of our hands and on the soles of our feet - areas that require more gripping power- the epidermis is at its thickest. The thinnest layer of epidermis is found over the eyelids where more flexibility is required. Inside the epidermis are cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes determine the color of our skin. If you have a lot of melanocytes, your skin will be darker.  
The second layer of the skin is called the dermis. It is thicker than the epidermis. The dermis is largely made up of a tough protein called collagen. It also contains many nerve endings and tiny blood vessels. The nerve endings are important and are needed to help us feel things. When your skin touches something, these nerve endings send signals to your brain with information about the object they have sensed. The nerve endings can tell your brain if something is soft or rough, or  cold or hot. 
The dermis also contains many important structures that help our skin in different ways. For instance, we sweat through the sweat glands that are found in the dermis.  Hair grows from special cells found in the dermis. The hair follicle-the part of the skin that the hair grows from- is surrounded a gland that makes our skin oily.  It's called a sebaceous gland. Sebaceous glands keep our hair shiny. The dermis also has glands that give off the smell our bodies make.
Underneath the dermis is a third layer called the hypodermis or subcutis. This layer contains the fat that is deep inside our skin.  We need this fat to be a shock absorber when we bump into things. The fat also helps keep us warm and gives energy to our body if we don't eat for awhile.
As a learning game, you can help your children look at their skin with a magnifying glass. One look at the tips of their fingers will teach them about their fingerprints. Use an inkpad - or write on the fingertip with a pen or marker - and have your children make their fingerprints on paper. 
By comparing fingerprints from different people, you can teach your child that no two fingerprints are alike. You can also examine freckles or look where the hairs come out.  Find areas of thick skin and thin skin!
If some area of your skin is not working properly, skin rashes or funny feelings- like itching or a 'crawling feeling' - can happen.  As we get older, our skin changes. Collagen production is less, so we get wrinkles.  We get drier skin when we get older, too. We lose the layer of fat under the skin, making wrinkles worse and making us feel colder than when we were younger. 
Tell your child that many of the things we see in older skin, like wrinkles and age spots, can be lessened if we protect our skin from sun damage. It's a good idea to tell your child that one way to protect their skin from damaging sun rays is to ALWAYS WEAR SUN SCREEN!!
Now you know how to turn a simple bath into a lesson on skin!