Aging is best thought of as the gradual decline of the body as a result of time and environmental stressors. Increasing either one of these variables causes the human body to age.
While time is a constant, the only factor that can be altered is the body’s exposure to environmental stressors. UV exposure, carcinogenic agents, poor diet, and mental stress can all lead to what is known as premature aging. These environmental factors accelerate the aging process experienced by the human body and organ systems.
One organ system that takes a particularly hard hit as a result of environmental stressors is the integumentary system. Below is a look at what the integumentary system consists of, how aging affects it, and ways that you can support the integumentary system.
What does the integumentary system consist of?
The human body consists of four kinds of tissue. This includes connective, epithelial, muscle, and nervous. These tissue types are used throughout the body to accomplish unique and vital functions within the body.
The integumentary system is a unique bodily system that encompasses a large area of the body. The Integumentary system consists of skin, nails, hair, and exocrine glands. These tissues are directly exposed to environmental stressors and the entire system is responsible for acting as the first line of defense for the body against the stressors of the environment.
Skin is the largest component of the integumentary system. The skin is a multilayered tissue that consists of the epidermis, dermis, and subcutaneous layer. The three layers of the skin act to protect the human body from the external environment.
Playing the role of protector, the skin is continually acquiring damage and stress from the environment. Because of its continual need to protect the human body, the skin has a high rate of cellular turnover. Skin is continually being replaced by new skin and this process exists throughout life.
As you age, the ability of the skin to bounce back and continually replace itself diminishes. This in addition to the loss of elasticity causes outwardly apparent indications of aging like wrinkles, dryness, and decreased radiance.
Hair is another component of the integumentary system. Hair consists of the follicle, root, and shaft. The follicle is embedded within the skin and the root is where hair is created. The hair follicle is made of cells known as keratinocytes.
As you age, changes in hormonal balance can cause hair loss. Both male and female pattern baldness can be caused as a result of aging and changes in hormones. Additionally, the rate at which hair is produced is significantly reduced as you age. Darker colored and thicker follicles become replaced with thinner and lighter follicles.
Nails are also included within the integumentary system. Nails are present at the tips of the fingers and toes and act to protect them. Nails are made of the same keratinocytes as hair follicles. Nails continuously grow throughout your life.
The nail structure consists of the nail root, nail bed, and free edge. Covering and protecting the nail root is the structure known as the cuticle.
As you age your body begins to decrease in the rate at which nails grow. Additionally, nails may become more rigid and brittle.
The last component of the integumentary system is the exocrine glands. Within the skin, there are three exocrine glands that help the skin with specific functions.
The first is known as the sebaceous gland and it is responsible for the excretion of natural oils. These oils play a very important role in protecting the skin and locking in moisture. As you age the gland can become less efficient at creating an adequate skin barrier. As a result, the surface of the skin may become dry and some skincare products may be detrimental as they strip the skin of its natural oils which are not as readily replaced.
The second exocrine gland is known as the sudoriferous gland. This gland is the gland that is responsible for sweating. Sweating is a crucial way in which the human body is able to cool itself down. Sweating works by excreting water through the sudoriferous gland onto the surface of the skin. This water then evaporates and results in the surface of the skin cooling down. In addition to assisting in body temperature regulation, the sudoriferous glands aid in healing according to a new study. Decreased function of the glands is also experienced as a result of aging.
The third and final gland is known as the ceruminous glands. These glands are found within the ear and are what produce ear wax, which is also known as cerumen. Ear wax may seem like a nuisance as it is easily transferred onto earbuds and needs to be cleaned off, but it plays an important role for the ears. The wax along with the hairs within the ear act to trap outside particles before they are able to enter deeper parts of the ear canal.
How to support the Integumentary System
The integumentary system has many components. While there are many different components that make up the entire organ system, there are things that you can do to help support it. Through the utilization of topicals, nutrition, and adequate hydration you can give your integumentary system the best shot at fighting back against signs of aging.
Topicals are substances that you place upon the surface of the skin. When dealing with the integumentary system topicals are most commonly utilized because they offer targeted benefits to where you need it most.
A great example of how topicals are targeted is to look at dark under-eye circles. Under-eye puffiness, dark circles, and crows feet are common signs of aging shown through the integumentary system. By utilizing a topical like MitoQ Eye Cream, you are giving the area the support it needs to reduce the appearance of dark circles and become more radiant.
Topicals can also be used as a means of assisting the natural oil skin barrier which allows your skin to maintain moisture and a youthful appearance. Ultimately topicals are a first-line way in which you can effectively support your integumentary system and have it functioning and looking its very best.
Where topicals offer a targeted type of support, supplements work from the inside out and affect the entire body. Supplements are a great way to supplement nutrition that is not normally achieved through your diet.
MitoQ Skin Protection Complex for instance contains MitoQ, Polypodium, Pycnogenol®, and Astaxanthin. All of these micro-nutrients have proposed benefits to the skin of the body and are not readily consumed in most people’s diets. Getting these nutrients in the form of a supplement allows you to reap the benefits offered by these essential micronutrients without having to worry about cooking complex meals.
Supplements are not only important for your skin, but they can also be beneficial to hair and nail growth. Like the skin, hair and nails need adequate nutrition to grow and function at their very best. There are a number of supplements available that can help restore any nutrient deficiency that may be at fault. Going to the doctor and determining if you have any deficiency is a great place to start to see if you would benefit from a supplement regimen.
The integumentary system is constantly exposed to the outside world and because of this, it is constantly losing water through the process of evaporation. Even if you are not actively sweating, water is constantly being lost to the environment around you. The natural oil barrier helps to retain water, but ultimately you need to support the system by ensuring you are hydrated.
The skin is composed of a lot of water and when you become dehydrated the skin can actually show signs of dehydration like decreased elasticity and a shriveled appearance. By staying adequately hydrated the skin is able to do a much better job at protecting the body from the outside environment and is able to look more hydrated and youthful.
In summary, the integumentary system is one of the largest body systems and covers the entirety of your body. Skin, hair, nails, and exocrine glands all work together to help protect the body from the stresses of the outside world.
By using skincare topicals, supplements, and staying hydrated you can support your skin to allow it to fight back against signs of aging and premature wear.
Reviewed by: Kai Man Yuen/ BSc., PGDipSci., MSc.