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Sun Protection – How to Safeguard the Integumentary System from UV Damage

The integumentary system is the body’s outermost layer that plays a crucial layer in protecting us from pathogens and environmental factors like ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. The integumentary system is made up of the skin, nails, hair, and glands. This bodily system is also responsible for eliminating waste products, retaining bodily fluids, and regulating body temperature. With so many different and important functions, it is important to take care of the integumentary system for our own well-being. Read on to find out more about sun protection and how to safeguard the integumentary system from UV damage.

The Integumentary System

The integumentary system is made up of your skin, nails, hair, and glands. It is the body’s outer layer and acts as your first line of defense against not only microbes but also injury and sunlight. The organs and structures of the integumentary system act as a physical barrier and protects your body from infection, microorganisms, injury, and sunlight.

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It also helps regulate the body temperature and lets you feel sensations like hot and cold. Some of the many important functions of the integumentary system include:(1234)

  • It acts as a physical barrier and provides physical protection against harmful microbes.
  • It absorbs and helps in wound healing.
  • It cushions and protects the body from infection.
  • It keeps you safe from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and prevents sunburn.
  • It helps you feel sensations like hot and cold.
  • It excretes oil (sebum), sweat, and other wastes from the body.
  • It synthesizes vitamin D.
  • It helps regulate your body temperature and allows you to stay cool.

How Does the Integumentary System Protect Against UV Rays?

The skin is the largest and heaviest organ of the body and it serves many functions. The skin is made up of three main layers and contains nerves that help recognize different sensations in each of the layers. The three layers are as follows:

  1. Epidermis: The topmost layer of the skin is known as the epidermis. This is the part of the skin that is visible to us and that which we can touch. It is made up of three different types of cells known as melanocytes, keratinocytes, and Langerhans. The cells give your skin its color and tone, and also act as a waterproof barrier.(56
  2. Dermis: This is the middle layer of the skin and also the thickest. The dermis contains the oil and sweat glands along with hair follicles.(7)
  3. Hypodermis: The bottom layer of the skin is known as hypodermis. It is a fatty layer that helps provide insulation to the body.(8)
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The skin serves as a very strong physical barrier against infections. At the same time, it prevents damage to the body from many harmful substances including ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or other sources like tanning beds.

The skin responds to these UV rays by producing a pigment known as melanin in cells located in the epidermis layer known as melanocytes. If there is overexposure to the sun’s rays, the integumentary system immediately kick starts the process of inflammation, causing the skin to turn red and flushed. This happens in response to the dilation of the blood vessels located in the dermis layer. As the pigment melanin is produced, the skin starts to tan. The melanin begins to absorb the UV light and prevent damage to the DNA of the skin cells.(910)

At the same time, the hair on your skin, another part of the integumentary system, has also been found to play an important role in safeguarding against UV rays. A study found that hair on the skin also serves as a physical barrier against both UVA and UVB radiation. UV rays are typically classified into three types – ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC) based on their wavelengths. Nearly all of the UV radiation that reaches the earth is UVA and some amount of UVB. The study found that the more thickness and density a person’s hair has, the more protective the hair is in serving as a better barrier against UV radiation from the sun. (11)

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While the integumentary system safeguards the body as much as possible from UV radiation, there are many things you can also do to safeguard the integumentary system from UV damage. Let us take a look at what steps you can take.

How to Safeguard the Integumentary System from UV Damage?

Regardless of whether you are indoors or outdoor, your skin gets affected by the environment. Pollution, UV rays, and blue light are just some factors that have an effect on your skin, thus affecting the integumentary system. Exposure to UV rays from the sun is one of the biggest factors contributing to skin damage and aging. UV rays trigger the production of free radicals in the skin. This can cause damage to the DNA of the skin cells and also lead to a breakdown of collagen and elastin in the skin, which are important proteins in the skin. This can lead to wrinkles and fine lines.(121314)

At the same time, exposure to UV rays can stimulate the overproduction of melanin leading to skin discolorations and sun spots. Apart from aesthetics, UV radiation also increases the risk of skin cancers. The cumulative effect of being exposed to sun rays can, over a period of time, lead to the formation of non-melanoma skin cancers, such as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. UV exposure in early childhood is also known to be a big factor in the development of melanoma skin cancers, which can prove to be fatal.(151617)

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This is why it is so important to safeguard your integumentary system from UV damage. Here are some tips to help you keep yourself safe from sun damage.

  1. Always Use Sunscreen

    The most important thing you can do to safeguard yourself against sun damage is to use sunscreen. Sunscreens come with a sun protection factor (SPF) number that denotes their effectiveness in blocking out UV rays. Higher the number, the more protection the product offers. You should be using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 15. And you need to wear sunscreen even on cool and cloudy days.

    Broad spectrum sunscreen means that the sunscreen is able to filter out both UVA and UVB radiation exposure. While UVA rays are able to penetrate deep into your skin and are mostly known to cause premature aging and skin cancer, UVB rays can cause sunburn and affect the surface of the skin.(18)

    You should ideally put on a thick layer of sunscreen on all exposed skin. And if your sunscreen wears off, make sure to put it on again if you remain in the sun for more than two hours or after swimming or sweating.

  2. Avoid Stepping Out In Peak Sun

    It is recommended that you avoid stepping outside or schedule any outdoor activities between 10 am and 4 pm. These are the times when the sun is at its peak or directly overhead and there is maximum UV radiation reaching the earth directly.

  3. Seek Shade

    You can reduce the damage caused to your skin and integumentary system, while also reducing the risk of skin cancer, by finding shade. Take shelter and seek shade under an umbrella, tree, or any other shaded area. Even when you are in shade, make sure you are protecting your skin by wearing protective clothing and using sunscreen. If you know that you will be outside in the sun, make sure to carry an umbrella in your bag.

  4. Wear Clothes That Will Protect You From The Sun

    When stepping outside during the day, prefer to wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, or skirts to protect you from the harmful UV rays. Fabrics that are tightly woven are known to offer the most protection. Remember that a wet T-shirt actually offers far less UV protection than a dry one. Darker colors also protect more than wearing lighter ones. There are, in fact, some clothing that has been certified according to international standards and specially manufactured to offer protection from UV rays.

    While this type of clothing might be expensive or the weather at your place does not permit you to wear full-sleeve clothes, try to cover up as much as possible to reduce exposure.

  5. Wear a Hat and Sunglasses

    It is not only your skin that needs protection. Your hair, another crucial component of the integumentary system, also should be protected from the harmful UV rays of the sun. Wear a hat with a wide brim that offers shade to your face, eyes, and even the back of the neck. Again, tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, provides the best protection for your skin from UV rays. Avoid wearing straw hats that have holes in them that will let the sunlight pass through. Choose a darker hat that offers more protection and coverage.

    Remember that it is important to protect your eyes from UV rays as well. Wearing sunglasses will not only keep your eyes safe from UV rays but also decrease the risk of cataracts and protect the soft skin around the eyes from exposure. One of the best options is to choose sunglasses that block out both UVA and UVB rays to get maximum protection. Many experts suggest wearing wrap-around sunglasses as they block UV rays from entering from the side as well.

Conclusion

The integumentary system makes up the outer layer of the body, comprising of the skin, hair, nails, and glands. This bodily system is the body’s first line of defense as it protects you from injury, infection, and sunlight. This is why it is so important to safeguard the integumentary system from UV damage caused by the sun. The skin protects the body tirelessly against damage from ultraviolet light from the sun and other sources like tanning beds. Following certain helpful tips like always using sunscreen, wearing long-sleeved clothes, staying in the shade, and avoiding stepping out during peak sun can help protect yourself from harmful UV exposure, thus safeguarding your integumentary system.

References:

  1. Mauldin, E.A. and Peters-Kennedy, J., 2016. Integumentary system. Jubb, Kennedy & Palmer’s Pathology of Domestic Animals: Volume 1, p.509.
  2. Elliott, D.G., 2000. Integumentary system. In The laboratory fish (pp. 271-306). Academic Press.
  3. Rawles, M.E. and Marshall, A.J., 1960. The integumentary system. Biology and comparative physiology of birds, 1, pp.189-240.
  4. Lund, C.H. and Kuller, J.M., 2013. Integumentary system. Comprehensive neonatal nursing care, 5, pp.299-333.
  5. Wilcott, R.C., 1959. On the role of the epidermis in the production of skin resistance and potential. Journal of Comparative and Physiological Psychology, 52(6), p.642.
  6. Slominski, A. and Wortsman, J., 2000. Neuroendocrinology of the skin. Endocrine reviews, 21(5), pp.457-487.
  7. Kolarsick, P.A., Kolarsick, M.A. and Goodwin, C., 2011. Anatomy and physiology of the skin. Journal of the Dermatology Nurses’ Association, 3(4), pp.203-213.
  8. Walters, K.A. and Roberts, M.S., 2002. The structure and function of skin. In Dermatological and transdermal formulations (pp. 19-58). CRC press.
  9. Dummer, R. and Maier, T., 2002. UV protection and skin cancer. Cancers of the Skin, pp.7-12.
  10. Zastrow, L. and Lademann, J., 2016. Light-instead of UV protection: new requirements for skin cancer prevention. Anticancer research, 36(3), pp.1389-1393.
  11. de Gálvez, M.V., Aguilera, J., Bernabó, J.L., Sánchez‐Roldán, C. and Herrera‐Ceballos, E., 2015. Human hair as a natural sun protection agent: a quantitative study.
  12. Photochemistry and photobiology, 91(4), pp.966-970.
  13. Moan, J., Grigalavicius, M., Baturaite, Z., Dahlback, A. and Juzeniene, A., 2015. The relationship between UV exposure and incidence of skin cancer. Photodermatology, photoimmunology & photomedicine, 31(1), pp.26-35.
  14. Reichrath, J., 2006. The challenge resulting from positive and negative effects of sunlight: how much solar UV exposure is appropriate to balance between risks of vitamin D deficiency and skin cancer?. Progress in biophysics and molecular biology, 92(1), pp.9-16.
  15. Nakazawa, H., English, D., Randell, P.L., Nakazawa, K., Martel, N., Armstrong, B.K. and Yamasaki, H., 1994. UV and skin cancer: specific p53 gene mutation in normal skin as a biologically relevant exposure measurement. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 91(1), pp.360-364.
  16. De Gruijl, F.R., 1999. Skin cancer and solar UV radiation. European Journal of Cancer, 35(14), pp.2003-2009.
  17. English, D.R., Armstrong, B.K., Kricker, A., Winter, M.G., Heenan, P.J. and Randell, P.L., 1998. Case‐control study of sun exposure and squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. International journal of cancer, 77(3), pp.347-353.
  18. Šitum, M., Buljan, M., Bulat, V., Lugović Mihić, L., Bolanča, Ž. and Šimić, D., 2008. The role of UV radiation in the development of basal cell carcinoma. Collegium antropologicum, 32(2), pp.167-170.
  19. Antoniou, C., Kosmadaki, M.G., Stratigos, A.J. and Katsambas, A.D., 2008. Sunscreens–what’s important to know. Journal of the European academy of dermatology and venereology, 22(9), pp.1110-1119.
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