How The Integumentary System Lives Through a Lifespan


Being the first line of defense against the outside world is tough, hard work. A day in the life of our skin would show us how it is assaulted by all kinds of pollutants, germs, viruses, and harmful chemicals. It is indeed a mystery as to how our skin can endure a week’s worth of these assailants, how much more an entire lifespan of being subjected to them? From an infant to an elderly, let’s follow through the changes that occur in our largest army of defense, our skin.

Infants: The Armor as Soft as Angel’s Bottom

Everyone would want to have the softness and tenderness of an infant’s skin. Its dewy moisture gives the impression of how it would feel to touch a cherub’s very own skin. However, like most human beings who are now exposed to the dangers of the earth, an infant’s skin is not exempted from the unwanted daily visitors that land on the sensitive surface. An infant’s skin has more water content than the children and adults, but they lose excess water faster than adults do.

An infant’s skin barrier reaches maturity in their first year, increasing their susceptibility to skin conditions in the first few months of life. Another normal occurrence for an infant’s skin is physiologic jaundice. Parents do not need to panic over the yellowish tint of their baby’s skin if it appears 2 to 3 days after birth. They may also have tiny white nodules all over the face called milia and a white cheesy substance covering the skin called vernix caseosa.

Image via: newkidscenter
Physiologic jaundice or newborn jaundice. Image via:

One odd thing about an infant’s skin is how bathing can also damage it. An infant who is only weeks old and bathed using a washcloth experiences increased water loss and less skin hydration. Just soaking the infant in water does a few, almost an absence, of damage than using a washcloth. An infant’s skin may be considered ideal and flawless, but it requires very careful handling and only substances recommended by a pediatrician should be considered for use. Much for a cherub’s perfect and gentle skin that is as soft as a piece of cotton.

Children: The Armor in Molding

As we reach the age where only fun and games are our utmost concern, risks for skin damage increases undoubtedly. Children’s energy are inexhaustible; they can play all day long in whatever environment they are subjected to, as long as they are having fun. The fun would never stop until an adult marches them off their playgrounds and examines the day’s damages. Skin integrity is the foremost concern for children, toddlers up to school-age because they have more exposure to their surroundings than infants do.

A child’s skin has much in common with infants other than its water content and its maturity. When a child reaches his first year, his skin barrier begins to mature. It is tougher than an infant’s and contains less water. It is also more impermeable but not as impermeable as an adult’s. It is still subject to high drug toxicity, and the thickness of the stratum corneum is a little bit more improved than an infant’s. There is an increase in the volume of vellum hair follicles and higher surface volume ratio. Because of the increased percutaneous absorption of a child’s skin, they are more susceptible to sweat, sebum, dust, bacteria, and other irritants that freely roam the surroundings.

Vellus hair is short, fine, light-colored, and barely noticeable thin hair that develops on most of a person's body during childhood. Image via:
Vellus hair is short, fine, light-colored, and barely noticeable thin hair that develops on most of a person’s body during childhood. Image via:

Children are more prone to accidents too; hence, their skin integrity is compromised. One of the major causes of disturbed skin integrity is falls. Most wounds acquired from these damages are abrasions and open wounds, so chances of entry of pathogens should be observed. The fear of mutilation of small children might be a challenge in caring for impaired skin integrity; reassurance and careful handling should be employed in these cases.

If your child is bumping with excessive energy, feel free to let them do what they want as long as their safety is secured and diseases are a long way off.


Adolescents: The Armor in Training

Probably the most conscious human beings who fret over their skin are the adolescents. Since major changes are happening to the body when puberty hits you, they have every reason why they should feel that way. The hormonal changes play a major part in the change that our skin undergoes. The renewal of the layers of our skin is less frequent, but the layers are tougher and more resilient than a child’s skin. This resiliency gives our skin protection against harmful toxins, allergens, and physical injury.


The production of sweat and oil glands is the most noticeable skin changes during puberty. Mainly caused by a surge of sex hormones, maturation of these glands occurs. The growth of body hair is also caused by the sex hormones.

As we enter puberty, we begin to notice that we seem to have acne breakouts. This is due to the oil and sweat glands which are at full-time work for the first time. An adolescent’s personal hygiene is essential to maintain the integrity of the skin.

Adults: The Armor That is At The Height of Life’s Battles

When we reach adulthood, our skin’s defenses reach its full maturity. It is now tougher and a lot more impermeable. If taken care of properly, it can withstand the daily wear and tear it undergoes every day. Since it is our body’s first line of defense, it is essential that we give our skin proper attention and care. It already has the ability to regulate our body temperature more than infants and children’s skin do. Secretion of sebum is tolerated more than an adolescent’s skin does. Skin receptors are more sensitive to stimuli, and its function of producing and absorbing vitamin D has reached its peak.

Even though we seem to think that our skin is now as tough as armor, it still has vulnerabilities. Skin conditions that affect the adult skin are also tougher and tricky. An adult skin still needs the tender care we give to a baby’s soft, sensitive skin. Measures to avoid injury and infection should still be observed. Proper hydration can prevent dryness and susceptibility to injury. Our skin would age along with us, but we can still preserve its functions and physical appearance.

Elderly: The Armor That Has Wrinkled Through Time

Wrinkly, dry skin is oftentimes associated with the elderly. The paper-thin features of their skin merit utmost care as a newborn’s skin. It has already lost most of its elasticity due to decreased water content and is more prone to injuries as elderly people often have accidents such as falls. The dryness of the skin is attributed to the sebaceous and sweat gland’s decreased activity. You would also observe poor skin turgor due to dryness and flakiness. Flat, tan-colored macules are normally seen on the skin’s surface and they are typically called melanotic freckles.

Since an elderly person’s skin is as sensitive as of a newborn’s, increased hydration is necessary and close supervision of the elderly should be enforced. Application of moisturizers and lotions could reduce the dryness. We should treat our elders as we would treat our babies, tenderly and gently because they are just as sensitive and fragile as the little angels are.

Dry skin is common among elderly.
Dry skin is common among elderly.

We might have taken for granted the little things that are constant in our lives. Our skin would be our companion throughout our lives, would stick with us through thick or thin, and would be at our defense once it feels that we are compromised. This simple yet essential service by our body’s largest organ could only be appreciated by giving it the thorough and gentle care it deserves before we find ourselves in the situation where it rather wants to be peeled off from us than still become our own personal armor.


Marianne leads a double life, working as a staff nurse during the day and moonlighting as a writer for Nurseslabs at night. As an outpatient department nurse, she has honed her skills in delivering health education to her patients, making her a valuable resource and study guide writer for aspiring student nurses.

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