Integumentary system

Integumentary system

The integumentary system is your body’s outer layer and is composed of the skin, hair, nails, and glands. It is the largest system in the human body and plays a crucial role in protecting and maintaining homeostasis. This system acts as a physical barrier, protecting your body from bacteria, infection, injury, and sunlight. It also helps regulate your body temperature and allows you to feel skin sensations like hot and cold. The integumentary system is more than just a protective covering. It works in harmony with other systems in your body to keep it in balance. It is a complex organ that helps protect the body and regulates various essential processes.

In the upcoming sections, we will delve deeper into the components of the integumentary system, focusing primarily on the skin, while briefly touching upon the hair, nails, and glands.


The skin is the largest and heaviest organ of the human body. It is an impressive and vital organ, constituting about 16% of the human body weight. It covers an area of about 2 square meters and weighs around 5kgs. The skin is a fleshy surface with hair, nerves, glands, and nails. It consists of hair follicles which anchor hair strands into the skin.

Integumentary System
Integumentary System source : wikimedia

Structure of the skin


This is the outermost layer of the skin. The cells in this layer are called keratinocytes, which are composed of a protein called keratin. Keratin strengthens the skin and makes it waterproof. The epidermis is subdivided into the following layers.

  • Stratum Corneum: The outermost layer of the epidermis, which consists of dead and uniform scale-like cells which are overlapped. These cells contain abundant keratin and provide rigidity to the skin.
  • Granular Cell Layer: As cells approach this layer, they begin to shrivel and die as a result of being far away from the blood supply. This results in the formation of a protein called Keratin.
  • Spinous Cell Layer: This layer is formed due to the irregularities in the shapes and sizes of the cells.
  • Basal Cell Layer: This is the innermost layer of the epidermis, where new cells are produced continuously. As a result, cells get an upward thrust by the continuous formation of new cells.


This is a fibrous layer that supports and strengthens the epidermis. It contains nerves, nerve endings, glands, hair follicles, and blood vessels. Sweat is produced by glands in the dermis and reaches the surface of the skin through tiny ducts. The dermis is divided into two main layers.

  • Papillary Layer: This is the superficial layer of the dermis located just deep to the epidermis. It is composed of loose connective tissue which forms numerous papillae that extend and interdigitate with the epidermal ridges.
  • Reticular Layer: This is the deepest layer of the dermis and is much thicker than its superficial counterpart. It contains dense irregular connective tissue, composed mainly of type I collagen with a lesser number of elastic fibers.

Subcutis (Hypodermis)

This is a subcutaneous layer of fat beneath the dermis that supplies nutrients to the other two layers and cushions and insulates the body.

Functions of the skin

The skin acts as a barrier between the outside and inside environment. It has different thicknesses and textures, for example, the skin under the eyes is as thin as paper but is thick at the soles of the feet and palm.

The skin serves multiple functions. It protects us from external elements, regulates the body temperature by releasing water in the form of sweat, and allows sensations such as touch, heat, and cold. It also guards the bones, muscles, and other vital organs of our body.


  • Serves as a physical and chemical barrier, protecting the body from the external environment.
  • Prevents water loss from the body.
  • Protects against harmful substances and microorganisms.
  • The cells in the stratum basale continuously divide and push older cells toward the surface of the skin, where they eventually die and flake off.


  • Provides strength and elasticity to the skin due to the presence of collagen and elastin fibers.
  • Houses various structures such as blood vessels, nerves, hair follicles, and glands.
  • The blood vessels provide nutrients to the skin and help in temperature regulation.
  • The nerves in the dermis are responsible for transmitting sensations such as touch, pressure, pain, and temperature.

Hypodermis (Subcutaneous Tissue)

  • Acts as an energy reserve and provides insulation and cushioning for the body.
  • Contains fat cells, known as adipocytes, which store energy in the form of fat.
  • Anchors the skin to the underlying tissues and structures.

Each of these layers plays a crucial role in maintaining the health and functionality of the skin. They work together to protect the body, regulate temperature, provide sensation, and perform many other essential functions.


Hair is a protein filament that grows from follicles found in the dermis. It is one of the defining characteristics of mammals. The human body, apart from areas of glabrous skin, is covered in follicles which produce thick terminal and fine vellus hair.

Structure of hair

Hair Follicle

The hair follicle is where your hair begins to grow and is held in place. It’s a stocking-like structure that starts in the epidermis, your skin’s top layer. It extends to the dermis, your second layer of skin. At the bottom of the follicle, a piece of tissue called the papilla contains tiny blood vessels (capillaries). These nourish the hair root to keep it growing. The follicle also contains the germinal matrix, where cells produce new hairs.

Hair Shaft

The hair shaft is the part of the hair that we can see. Once the hair grows beyond the skin’s surface, the cells aren’t alive anymore. In cross-section, a hair shaft can be divided into three zones:

  • Cuticle: The outermost zone of the hair shaft. It consists of several layers of flat, thin keratinocytes that overlap one another like shingles on a roof.
  • Cortex: The middle zone of the hair shaft, and it is also the widest part. The cortex is highly structured and organized, consisting of keratin bundles in rod-like structures.
  • Medulla: The innermost zone of the hair shaft. This is a small, disorganized, and more open area at the center of the hair shaft.

Functions of hair

  • Protection: Hair primarily serves for protection. It protects your skin and traps particles like dust around your eyes and ears.
  • Thermoregulation: Hair helps in maintaining body temperature.
  • Sensation: Hair is connected to touch receptors in the skin that allow us to feel and, in that sense, collectively serve as a protective warning device.


Nails are the hard, protective covering over the soft tips of the fingers and toes. They are a type of skin appendage, meaning they are made with skin cells. Nails are a protective plate characteristically found at the tip of the digits (fingers and toes) of all primates, corresponding to the claws in other tetrapod animals.

nail source: wikimedia

Structure of Nails

Structure of nails consist of three main parts: the nail plate, the underlying nail bed, and the skin around the nail.

Nail Plate: The nail plate is the actual fingernail, and it’s made of translucent keratin. Keratin is a protein found in your nails, hair, and skin, that works to protect against infection. The pinkish appearance of the nail comes from blood vessels that are underneath it.

Nail Bed: The nail bed is the skin beneath the nail plate. It is the area of the nail on which the nail plate rests. Nerves and blood vessels found here supply nourishment to the entire nail unit.

Nail Root: The nail root lies below the skin, underneath the nail, and extends several millimeters into the finger. It produces most of the volume of the nail and the nail bed. The matrix produces cells that become the nail plate.

Functions of Nails

  • Protection: Nails primarily serve for protection. They protect the tips of our fingers and toes from injuries.
  • Enhancing Fine Motor Movements: The hard, rigid structure of the nails enhances our ability to scratch, separate, and pick up items. This makes performing everyday tasks, including gripping, less risky.
  • Sensation: There’s an intricate network of nerves underneath the nail, enhancing our sense of touch.
  • Indicator of Health: Changes in the color, shape, or texture of the nails can often provide clues about a person’s general health.


Glands are important organs located throughout the body. They produce and release substances that perform certain functions1. Though you have many glands throughout your body, they fall into two types: endocrine and exocrine.

Exocrine Glands

Exocrine glands release their secretions onto an epithelial surface via a duct. They consist of two main parts, a secretory unit and a duct. The secretory unit consists of a group of epithelial cells, which release their secretions into a lumen. A duct is lined with epithelium and is involved in transporting the secretions from the secretory unit to an epithelium-lined surface.

Endocrine Glands

Endocrine glands are ductless and release their secretions (hormones) directly into the bloodstream. These form the basis of the endocrine system, which relies heavily on the right level of hormones secreted throughout the body.


In conclusion, the integumentary system, composed of the skin, hair, nails, and glands, plays a crucial role in maintaining our overall health. The skin, our body’s largest organ, serves as a protective barrier against environmental hazards, helps regulate body temperature, and allows us to feel sensations. Each layer of the skin – the epidermis, dermis, and hypodermis – contributes to these functions in unique ways.

Hair, while often seen as a symbol of beauty or identity, also serves important biological functions such as protection, thermoregulation, and sensation. Nails, too, are not just aesthetic appendages but protect our fingertips and enhance our ability to perform fine motor movements.

Lastly, the glands in our skin secrete various substances that help maintain skin health, regulate body temperature, and even communicate with other parts of our body. Understanding the integumentary system is not just about appreciating the complexity of our bodies, but also about recognizing the importance of taking care of our skin, hair, and nails. After all, a healthy outside starts from the inside. Remember, your skin is a reflection of how well your body is functioning internally.

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