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The Integumentary System: Understanding its Role, Function, and Common Conditions That Can Affect It

When you hear the term integumentary system, it brings up an image of complex body systems. However, the integumentary system simply refers to your body’s outer layer. The integumentary system comprises of your skin, hair, nails, and glands that manufacture oil and sweat. These organs act as the first line of defense against foreign invaders and help keep you safe from sunlight, injuries, and any other harm. The integumentary system is a complex and important system of the body and its main job is to keep your insides safe from various elements. Read on to know all about the integumentary system.

What is the Integumentary System?

The integumentary system refers to the body’s outer layer and is made up of hair, nails, skin, and glands that produce sweat and nails.(1) Being the largest organ of the human body, the skin has many important functions, including the following:(2)

  • The skin and hair of the integumentary system act as a barrier against harmful substances, extreme temperatures, and ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
  • The skin contains nerve endings that detect pressure, pain, touch, heat, and cold.
  • The skin is able to sweat and also widen the blood vessels when needed to control your body temperature.
  • The skin also gets rid of waste material through sweating.
  • When it is exposed to UV light from the sun, the skin manufactures vitamin D, which is necessary for many functions in the body including bone health.

Parts of the Integumentary System and their Importance to the Overall Functioning of the Body

  1. Skin

    While most of you must already be knowing that the skin is the largest organ of the body, many are unaware that the skin is also the heaviest organ in the body. It covers the entire surface of the body and has several layers, each of which serves a different function. The skin is made up of three main layers, which serve the following functions:(345)

    The Epidermis: The epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin. It is thin and constantly keeps shedding dead skin cells.

    The Dermis: Being the middle layer of the skin, the dermis contains the blood vessels, hair follicles, sweat glands, and nerves.

    The Subcutaneous Layer: This is the deepest or innermost layer of the skin. It is made up of fat and connective tissue that attaches your skin to the underlying muscles. This layer insulates and cushions the body.

    The basic purpose of skin is to keep the body safe from any injury and infection, control body temperature, and also eliminate waste. The skin is important because it is the first line of defense against infections from any pathogens. It acts as a physical barrier and contains many of the features of the innate and adaptive immune system.(678)

  2. Glands

    There are two types of glands in our body. Glands can be best described as the functional units of cells that function together to release a substance, which can be oil or sweat.(9) The two types of glands in the body are known as endocrine glands and exocrine glands.

    Endocrine glands do not have a duct system due to which they release their substances directly into the bloodstream. Compared to this, the skin is home to many exocrine glands that have ducts that allow them to release the substances directly to the epithelial surface.(101112)

    Some Of The Exocrine Glands Include:(13)

    • Apocrine Sweat Glands: These glands are known to produce odorous perspiration. They are large and branched-out glands that are usually present in the genital and armpits area. They are not really involved in the function of cooling down the body.(1415)
    • Ciliary Glands: Ciliary glands can be best described as modified apocrine sweat glands that are located in the eyelids. The main purpose of these glands is to lubricate the eye and also keep it clean.(16)
    • Eccrine Sweat Glands: These are coiled, tube-like glands present throughout the body. They are responsible for producing sweat that is clear and has little to no odor or oil. The purpose of eccrine sweat glands is to cool down the body and eliminate waste by secreting water.(1718)
    • Sebaceous Glands: These glands secrete an oily substance known as sebum, which helps moisturize and protect the skin.(19)
    • Mammary Glands: There are two mammary glands located on the front of the chest wall. In females, these glands produce milk at the time of pregnancy to feed babies.(2021)
    • Ceruminous Glands: These glands are located in the ear canal and they produce ear wax, which is a sticky substance that keeps the ear safe from water and foreign bodies. These are also modified apocrine glands.
  3. Nails

    Nails are hard protective structures that cover the upper layer of the toes and fingertips. They are made up of a protein known as keratin and they grow from the base of the fingertips called the nail bed. The basic function of nails is to keep the tips of your fingers and toes safe from any injury. They also provide support to the body while performing fine motor tasks such as picking up small objects.

  4. Hair

    Hair are very fine, thread-like structures that emerge from the epidermis. They are also made up of the protein keratin and are usually pigmented. This lends them color. All parts of the body have hair except for the soles of the feet and palms of the hands. Hairs help protect the body against injuries, UV radiation and keep us safe from extreme temperatures. Hairs also play an important role in sensation since they contain nerve endings that are able to detect pressure, temperature, and touch.

How Does The Integumentary System Function With The Other Systems Of The Body?

The skin, glands, hair, and nails work together to protect the body from any injury and infection while also maintaining homeostasis, which is a state of optimal functioning of the body. At the same time, the integumentary system also works with other bodily systems to maintain our well-being. It works with other body systems in the following manner:

  • Integumentary System and the Immune System: The integumentary system acts as the first line of defense and a physical barrier to fight off disease-causing germs. The integumentary system also houses immune cells.(22)
  • Integumentary System and the Cardiovascular System: The blood vessels located in the skin are able to dilate and constrict to conserve and release heat.
  • Integumentary System and the Digestive System: The skin works to provide vitamin D to the digestive system. Vitamin D, in turn, helps the body in the absorption of calcium, which is an important mineral needed for the maintenance of bones and for muscle contraction.
  • Integumentary System and the Respiratory System: The tiny hairs that line the nasal passages help trap and remove any harmful particles before the lungs inhale them in.
  • Integumentary System and the Nervous System: The skin passes on information from various sensations through the nerve receptors right to the brain. These include feelings of heat, cold, pain, and other sensations.
  • Integumentary System and the Urinary System: The skin also works to eliminate waste products from the body, thus helping the kidneys maintain the pH and electrolyte balance inside the body.

What Conditions Can Affect The Integumentary System?

There are many different types of medical conditions that can affect the integumentary system. These include:

  • Acne: The most common condition that affects the skin is acne. Acne can cause pimples, blackheads, and spots on the skin. While it is most commonly observed in teenagers, it can occur at any age. Acne develops when the pores of the skin get blocked by bacteria, dead skin cells, and sebum.(23)
  • Athlete’s Foot: This is a type of fungal infection that causes redness, itching, and blisters to develop on the feet. An athlete’s foot most commonly happens from wearing shoes that do not allow the skin of the feet to breathe. It is most common in athletes who sweat a lot and have to keep wearing their shoes for long periods.(24)
  • Cold Sores: A cold sore is a type of small and painful blister that develops around the mouth or on the lips. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus and it is a contagious condition.(25)
  • Psoriasis: This is a chronic condition that causes the skin to start making new skin cells rapidly and before they are needed. This causes a buildup of scaly, red, and itchy patches of skin that cause a lot of discomfort.(26)
  • Skin Cancer: Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the world. It may develop as a result of overexposure to UV radiation from the sun or even from tanning beds or sunbeds. Skin cancer usually starts off looking like a discolored, scaly, and crusty patch of skin.(27282930)
  • Ringworm: Ringworm is a term used to refer to a type of fungal infection that causes a ring-shaped rash to develop on the skin. It is most commonly observed on the scalp, feet, or the body. Ringworm is a contagious condition.(31)


Made up of the skin, hair, glands, and nails, the integumentary system works to keep our body safe from injury and invasion by germs while maintaining a state of homeostasis in the body by working in harmony with the other bodily systems. The integumentary system can be affected by many types of medical conditions, including acne, skin cancer, psoriasis, and many others. It is important to take proper care of our skin, hair, and nails in order to ensure that the integumentary systems keep functioning properly.


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:January 16, 2023

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