Keeping The Skin Healthy
( Originally Published 1920 )
What the Skin Does for You.—Of what use is the soft pink skin which covers the body? First of all, the skin is like a delicate suit of armor, which fits the body very closely and protects it against germs and other outside dangers. If you break the skin, microbes may easily get in and cause serious disease; and if it were not for the skin, the muscles and other soft, moist organs inside would dry up and perish.
There are a number of other things which the skin does for us, as you have learned in earlier chapters.
It is through the tiny sense organs and nerves of the skin that we learn, by touching and feeling, a great deal about the things we handle, whether they are hard or soft, hot or cold, rough or smooth. It is by means of the blood vessels in the skin that the heat formed in the body is given off; and by the changes in the amount of blood passing through these vessels (as described in the last chapter), the amount of this heat loss is controlled and the temperature of the body as a whole is kept between 98° and 990. The skin, too, plays an important part in getting rid of the wastes of the body by means of the sweat-glands, which pour out these wastes in the form of perspiration.
All together, you see that the skin is a very important part of the body. Everything possible ought to be done to keep it healthy, so that it will do its work well.
Keeping Clean.—The skin of the hands and face collects dirt of all sorts, and it takes a great deal of attention, as you know, to keep it fresh and clean. The other parts of the skin that are covered by the clothes need almost as much caret because the perspiration, if not removed by thorough washing, gives the body and clothes an unpleasant odor. The whole body ought to be bathed once a day whenever possible, though in cold weather it will do in the morning to splash the water over face, neck, chest, arms, and the upper part of the body, and then rub the skin thoroughly with a rough towel. A real bath with warm water and soap should always be taken, however, once or twice a week.
The finger nails and the hair grow out from the skin and are really parts of it. They require very special care to keep them tidy. It is unpleasant to see a child's finger nails with a deep black border, or his head looking as if he had just slept in a hay loft. Mr. Nailbrush and Mr. Hairbrush could really have found a good deal to say for themselves in the argument which was quoted in Chapter IX.
It is necessary to keep the hair well brushed, not only for appearance's sake, but to keep the skin of the scalp healthy; and the hair should be thoroughly washed with warm water and soap at least once a month.
Warm and Cold Bathing.—Warm water is, of course, the best for cleansing, but cold water is good for the skin in another way. It is bracing and stimulating, and it helps to train the blood vessels of the skin to do their work well. A person who takes a cold bath every morning is much less likely to catch colds than one who has not stimulated his blood vessels in this way.
Some children who are not strong cannot stand cold baths. If a cold bath leaves a person tired and the skin pale, it is likely to be dangerous. A cold bath followed by brisk rubbing with a rough towel is good for most people, however; and many a child who shrinks from cold water as if it were poison, can train himself so that he enjoys it in a little while. One of the great secrets of keeping the skin healthy is to accustom it to cold so that it can bear cold readily—provided one does not get so cold as to cause a harmful chill.
How Clothing Helps and Harms the Skin.—In severe climates, like that of the northern part of the United States, we have to take a good deal of trouble to protect ourselves from extreme temperatures. When we go out into the winter air, we dress up warmly in clothing made of wool cut from the backs of sheep out on the western ranges, or perhaps in a leather jacket made of the skin of an animal, or a coat made of skin and fur. All this is necessary because in very cold weather the body could not keep up its temperature of 98°-99°, and would become chilled so that illness and perhaps even death might result, if it were not protected by warm clothing.
The body loses heat very rapidly when it is damp. It is, therefore, dangerous to have the shoes or the clothing wet. After playing in the snow or being out in the rain, one should change to dry things at once on coming into the house.
It is almost as bad, perhaps quite as bad, for the clothing to be too heavy as not heavy enough. Many people make themselves weak and sickly and unable to resist even moderate cold by wearing too heavy clothing.
One of the most dangerous things one can do is to get heated by sitting indoors or by playing hard out-doors and then to sit down in a cold place with no extra wraps. Clothes should be light for indoors or for violent exercise, and coats or wraps should be put on for outdoors or for sitting still.
Fresh Air.—Just as some people harm themselves by wearing heavier clothing than is really needed, so a great many people injure their health by keeping the rooms in which they live too warm. The still hot air of a close living room or schoolroom or office makes people dull and sleepy. They do not feel like working or playing. Their blood vessels do not act properly, so that when they go where it is cold, as they sometimes must, they feel the chill and very easily catch colds and other diseases.
The air of a close room smells stuffy, which is not very pleasant; but the really serious thing is that it is usually overheated. The temperature of the school-room or the living room should never get above 68°. In the schools of certain cities, a large thermometer is set up on the front of the teacher's desk in each classroom, with a big red mark opposite 68°, so that the teacher can see when the room is getting too hot. It is a good thing to have the thermometer in this conspicuous place, and it would be still better if some one could invent a thermometer that would ring a bell at 68° and discharge some bad smell into the air when it got above 7o°. Then the windows would have to be opened.
Fresh air—that is, cool moving air—is essential to the health of the skin and the skin blood vessels and to the comfort and health of the whole body.
Ventilation.—We shut ourselves up in heated buildings in winter in order to keep warm; and if we are not careful, we get too warm, and our health may be seriously injured, both by the heat itself and by the sudden shock we feel when we go out into the chill outer air. The remedy for this is to introduce all the time a supply of moderately cool fresh air; this process is called ventilation.
In a living room where there are not many people, plenty of air will get in—if it is cold outside—through cracks in the window frames and floors and other places. But where a great many people are crowded together, as in a schoolroom, it is generally necessary to provide some special way for the air to enter. Every human body produces about as much heat as a candle flame, and you can see that if the schoolroom were closed up tightly and a candle were burning in each seat, the room would heat up quickly.
In letting the air in through the windows, we must be careful to avoid a direct draft of very cold air on the people who are sitting near them. Cool air is good and moving air is good, but just as in the case of bathing and clothing, we must be careful not to overdo it. There are several things that can be done to prevent dangerous drafts of this kind. If the steam radiators in a schoolroom, for example, are placed along the wall under the windows, they will warm the incoming air. If sloping glass plates, called window-boards, are placed inside the window at the bottom, they will shoot the cool air up and mix it with the rest of the air in the room, so that it will not strike directly against, any one.
In ventilating with windows, always remember that the air should have a place to come in and a place to go out. Warm air is lighter than cold air and tends to rise. So if a window is open a little at the top and a little at the bottom, or if one window is open at the top and another at the bottom, the cool fresh air will come in by the lower opening and the warm stale air will pass out by the upper one.
In many schoolrooms and factories and in most lecture halls and theaters, where a very great many people are crowded together, it is necessary to provide more fresh air than we can get by opening windows. In such cases, the outside air is drawn in at the basement by great revolving fans, is warmed a little, and is then forced up to the rooms through big pipes built into the building.
Outdoor Life.—No kind of ventilation can make the air in our houses and schools quite as good as the air outdoors, where the sun shines and the wind blows. Every child who wants to get the most out of life while he is a child, and to be strong and well when he grows up, should play in the open air as much as possible, except when it is very cold indeed or when it is rainy. There is plenty of time for reading and sewing and other indoor occupations in wet weather and in the late afternoon; but swimming, roller-skating, bicycling, baseball, and other games in summer, and skating, coasting, and playing in the snow in winter are better than books, while the sun is shining.
In the sleeping room, the windows should always be open, wide open in summer and open a few inches even in the coldest weather, for you cannot really get the most rest out of your sleep time unless there is cool air moving about you. Many people find it pleasant and healthful to sleep out of doors on a sleeping porch or balcony and, where this is possible, it is a very good plan to follow.
Nancy's Dream.—Once upon a time a little girl named Nancy dreamed that she and her friend, Virginia, were walking together through a wood in winter. Soon they came to a high rocky cliff that rose up among the trees, and in the middle of the cliff was a cave. A red light shone out of the mouth of the cave; and as they drew nearer, holding each other's hands because they were just a tiny bit frightened, they saw that a big fire was burning inside. About the fire, little figures were moving. When two or three of them came out to see who was passing, the children were not frightened any longer, for they saw that the people who lived in the cave were little Mountain Elves. The Elves came up to Nancy and Virginia and bowed very politely, almost touching the ground with their tall, pointed caps.
"Won't you come in, pretty children," they said, and rest by our fire? You can lie on soft couches of pine needles in the warm cave, and we will sing you to sleep with our sweet mountain lullabies."
"That sounds pleasant," said Nancy, "and it is very polite of you to ask us."
"Wait a moment, though," said Virginia. "Who are these coming?"
They all looked around, and who should come trooping through the wood but a whole party of Snow Fairies, dancing and leaping and frolicking, with little shiny crowns of snow crystals in their hair.
"Come and play with us, children," they cried, "Come out and romp in the snow. We will chase you and roll you over and pinch your cheeks with the frost, till they shine as pink as round apples in the autumn. Our hearts are as light as the snow that the wind drives before it, and we sparkle like the snow crust when the sun shines on it through the forest."
"I want to play with the Snow Fairies," cried Virginia joyously.
"No," said Nancy, "it is cold and I shall stay in the cave." This was a dream, remember. In real life Nancy and Virginia were such good friends that nothing would have separated them; but in the dream Virginia went off to play with the Snow Fairies and Nancy dozed in the cave of the Mountain Elves.
Late in the afternoon Virginia and the Fairies came storming back, and the light of the sun was in their eyes and the breath of the wind was in their dancing. And Virginia cried, "Oh, Nancy, we have had the most wonderful time. We have played tag among the trees on the smooth snow crust, and we have coasted down the hills and built snow houses in the hollows. I never had such a beautiful day in my life. What have you done, Nancy?"
But Nancy, having done nothing at all but doze over the fire, felt dull and cross and sleepy. So when she woke up after the dream was all over, she made up her mind she would go out and play with the Snow Fairies instead of staying by the fire, when she had the chance next time.