Science of Dress/Chapter II

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Science of Dress
by Ada S. Ballin


I HAVE said that clothing exercises a most powerful influence on health, and that consequently care should be taken to modify it in such a way that its influence shall be good instead of bad, as it too often is; but, in order to modify it thus, it is necessary to know what is the healthy condition of the body.

The body is made up of a number of different organs, each of which has a separate duty to perform; but neither of which can act properly, independently of all the others. If one of these organs strikes work the others suffer in consequence, and suffer in proportion to the importance of the disaffected organ, and the length of the strike. The organs are all employed in different ways in carrying out the work connected with the three great functions of the body, which are—(1) The changing of tissue; (2) The removal of waste or used-up material which results from those changes; and (3) The supply of new material to take the place of that which is constantly being worn out and removed. The regular performance of these functions constitutes health, while any divergence from it, if not sufficient to be actual disease, at any rate tends towards that downward path which leads to disease.

The organs engaged in these three functions are—(1) The digestive organs, the mouth, gullet, stomach, and bowels, by means of which food is taken into the body and prepared for use; (2) The circulatory, by means of which the prepared food, having been absorbed into the blood, is carried through the arteries to the various parts of the body to form new tissue, while the old and worn-out tissue is carried away through the veins; and (3) The excretory, the lungs, skin, and kidneys, by means of which those waste matters pass out of the body. As far as the subject of clothes is concerned, we have to deal chiefly with the circulatory system in its relation to the skin.

The circulation of the blood is carried on by means of the heart, arteries, and veins.

The heart is a very powerful muscle, which acts as a kind of pumping machine; it is divided down the middle, by a muscular partition, into two parts, called the right and the left side, and no blood can pass from the one side into the other.

The right side of the heart receives the impure blood from the veins, and also the prepared food or chyle from the lymphatics, which there mixes with the venous blood. This mixture is then pumped by the heart into the lungs, through what is called the pulmonary or lung artery, which breaks up into gradually smaller and smaller tubes until the little blood-vessels are reduced to a size smaller than any hair, when they are called capillaries. These capillaries are fine tubes, with marvellously thin walls, and they are twisted round the tiny air-sacs, multitudes of which form the body of the lungs. Now, in the venous or dark blood in these hair-like vessels there is a quantity of carbonic acid and water, waste matters from the tissues, and in the air-sacs is the air that is taken in when we draw a breath, and the blood is only separated from the air by an exceedingly thin membrane. Hence an exchange easily takes place between the gaseous contents of the blood and those of the air by a process called osmosis, in which light and heavy gases change places. Air is composed of about twenty-one per cent, of oxygen, and the remainder of nitrogen with traces of other gases. Osmosis takes place, and the oxygen passes into the blood, while the carbonic acid passes into the air-sacs—the expired air losing about five per cent, of oxygen, the place of which is taken by about five per cent, of carbonic acid. The nitrogen is unchanged in the lungs; it serves to dilute the oxygen, for pure oxygen cannot be breathed with impunity. At the same time moisture also passes from the blood into the air-sacs, and, however dry the outside air may be, what we expire is always quite, or nearly, saturated with watery vapour; it contains, moreover, a certain amount of highly decomposable animal matter. The quantity of carbon which passes from the lungs during twenty-four hours, in the form of carbonic acid, is fairly represented by a piece of pure charcoal weighing eight ounces, while the quantity of water amounts to about nine ounces, or half a pint, on an average; but it may be less, and is sometimes doubled or trebled. The oxygen which passes into the capillaries combines chemically with the carbon it finds in the blood, which carbon is a product of the digested food, and as a result of this combination heat is given off. The venous blood which comes to the lungs is not in a condition to nourish the tissues, but the purified bright red blood is ready to perform that duty, and is carried by the pulmonary veins to the left side of the heart. This part of the circulation, by which the blood is purified, has been called the lesser circulation. In the course of the greater circulation the blood is pumped from the left side of the heart into the aorta, the chief artery; this divides into other large arteries, and each large artery breaks up into smaller ones, a process which is continued until the tubes become capillaries. These capillaries are found in countless numbers all over the body, and through their thin walls the nutritive parts of the blood pass out to the tissues, while the waste matters of the tissues pass into the capillaries. The capillaries widen into small veins, the veins into larger ones, and finally into the great hollow veins, the superior and inferior vena cava, which bring back the dark blood to the right side of the heart, to start again on its journey to the lungs for purification. The processes which go on in the lesser and greater circulation are, in a manner, the reverse of one another.

The skin acts as an excretory organ, much in the same way as the lungs and kidneys do; in each of these organs water, carbonic acid, and dissolved matters pass through the animal membrane of the capillaries, but the three differ in the absolute and relative amounts of their excretions. In all three water is the chief constituent, while most solid matter is given off by the kidneys, and most gaseous matter by the lungs. The skin has something of the nature of both lungs and kidneys; it takes in oxygen, and breathes out carbonic acid and water, like the lungs do, and it excretes organic and saline matter dissolved in water, as do the kidneys, with which it is so closely related, that when its action is interfered with, the kidneys do some of its work, and vice versâ. When the excretion of the skin is increased, as in hot weather, that of the kidneys is diminished; and when, as in cold weather, less work is done by the skin, the kidneys are brought into more active service. The skin is composed of two layers—the outer or scarf-skin (otherwise called the cuticle or epidermis), and the inner so-called true skin, cutis or dermis. The outer layer varies much in thickness at different parts of the body, being thickest where there is most pressure, as on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet; it is dead material, containing neither nerve-fibres nor bloodvessels, and is in the form of layers of fine, flat cells or scales laid one over another, like tiles on a roof. These scales

are constantly being given off from the surface as more or less fine scurf, and as constantly being formed in the deeper parts which are contiguous to the dermis or true skin. The true skin is highly sensitive, being supplied with countless nerve-fibres and endings. It is also highly vascular, being supplied by those innumerable tiny blood-vessels called capillaries, though they are far finer than

FIG. 1.—Section through the skin, showing the cuticle, with the true skin or cutis lying beneath it, and the perspiratory glands, which corkscrew their way up to the surface of the cuticle, which is shown by the waved, shaded line in the diagram.

any hair, of which I spoke just now. It contains the perspiratory or sweat-glands, the sebaceous or oil-glands, and the roots of the hair, which are fed by the latter.

There are many ways of proving that the skin is continually removing matters from the blood. For instance, if a man's body, or even only one limb, is carefully enclosed in a gutta-percha bag full of air, it is found that changes take place in the air similar to those which happen in respired air. The air loses oxygen and gains carbonic acid, and it also receives a quantity of watery vapour, which condenses on the side of the bag, and may be drawn off if desired. Ordinarily such moisture does not appear on the surface of the skin, but it is given off nevertheless, and is then called insensible perspiration; but when the external temperature is very high, or under certain circumstances of mental emotion, or violent bodily activity, it appears in the form of isolated drops irregularly distributed on the skin, and thus becomes sensible perspiration. The air in hot climates is far from being wholly saturated with vapour of water, and in temperate climates it ceases to be so directly it touches the skin, the temperature of which is generally twenty or thirty degrees above its own.

The quantity of sweat, or perspiration, whether sensible or insensible, varies immensely, according to conditions of the external air, and to states of the blood and nervous system. It is calculated that as a general rule the skin gives off about two pints in twenty-four hours, nearly double as much water as the lungs do in the same time, but not more than one-thirtieth or fortieth part as much carbonic acid as they do, while it gives off about one and a half per cent, of solid saline matter, lactic acid, urea, and other waste products which would act as poison if left in the blood, and do so if not perfectly removed.

When a permeable membrane interposes between a liquid and the air, an exchange takes place between the two. Although no pores can be seen in a bladder, water put in it will ooze through its walls and disappear by evaporation. Now the skin, in relation to the blood it contains, resembles a bladder full of hot fluid. Hence perspiration must always be going on through the substance of the skin itself; but the amount of this cannot be ascertained, owing to the fact that the skin is covered with the little glands, whose special duty is to excrete the perspiration.

All over the body tiny holes may be seen which are the openings of the sweat glands passing out through the scarf-skin. These glands are tiny tubes about 1/300th of an inch in diameter and a quarter of an inch long; they are coiled into a sort of knot, intermeshed with capillaries, and it is calculated that there are not less than two millions and a quarter or two millions and a half of them in the whole skin (see Fig. I). Their number varies in different parts of the body; they are fewest in the back and neck, where there are only about four hundred to the square inch, and more numerous on the palm of the hand and sole of the foot, where their openings may be seen through a magnifying-glass following the ridges on the skin, which are visible to the naked eye; a square inch of the skin of these parts contains from two to three thousand. The blood in the capillaries is only divided from the inside of the gland by the very thin walls of the capillaries and of the gland, and by this means, as in the air-sacs of the lungs, an exchange is permitted between the contents of the blood and of the air. Hence it will be seen that there is a strong resemblance between the structure and function of the skin and lungs, and an arrangement similar in principle exists in the kidneys.

Sweat contains in itself fatty matters even when freed from the excretion of the sebaceous glands, but when it reaches the skin it mixes with the oily products of these, and also with the little scales which are given off constantly from the surface of the scarf-skin.

It is well known that one of the chief causes, if not the chief cause, of skin disease is dirt, and that dirt which is the most injurious is this mixture of the excretions from the skin itself when left on its surface.

A dirty skin is a splendid garden in which parasites, both animal and vegetable, may grow and multiply.

Many of those brown stains met with between the shoulders and on the back, are due to a form of vegetable fungus which grows among the scales of the epidermis, and may soon be removed by soap and water. The disease called "ring-worm" is another sort of vegetable fungus, encouraged by similar conditions.

A daily bath all over is one of the most important preservers of health, and soap is a necessary adjunct to the bath, as without it the excretion of the sebaceous glands cannot be removed,"for oil will not mix with water, but does mix with, and is removed by, soap.

Excess of fat or water in the tissues is injurious. An over-supply of fat diminishes the space necessary for the circulation of the blood, and causes the degeneration of the various body tissues. The elimination of excessive fat and water, together with the other waste matters contained in perspiration, is a function of the greatest importance, and one which should be promoted, while everything calculated to check it must positively be avoided.

Soap is so necessary an adjunct to the toilet that it is well to say a word about the right kind to use. All highly-coloured and scented soaps should be avoided, as they frequently owe their attractions to the addition of poisonous substances to their contents. Medicinal soaps should also be avoided unless under medical advice, since most of those advertised are pure quackeries. People can generally find out for themselves, after a few days' trial, a soap which suits their own skins; but that which I generally recommend is "Sanitas Soap," which has disinfectant qualities, and is therefore very useful after recovery from infectious diseases; but is also suited for daily use, especially in warm weather, as it leaves the skin feeling fresh and cool, and removes any unpleasant odours which may arise from the perspiration.

Toilet powders should, as a rule, be avoided, as powder fills up the pores of the skin and is thus unhealthy, even if it is not, as frequently happens, poisonous. Arsenic is, for instance, sometimes found in violet powder. If, however, as in the case of young infants, some powder has to be used, the best is Messrs. Woolley, Sons, and Co.'s "Sanitary Rose Powder," which is slightly antiseptic and soluble.

Having seen what important functions the skin has to perform, it becomes obvious that nothing must be done which can in any way impair its action. If its action is stopped, death is the result. Thus the case is on record of a boy who, in order to grace a Roman procession, was covered all over the body with gold, the result of which coating was that he died from suppression of the excretions of the skin. Similarly a frog varnished by Spallanzani, the great physiologist, expired in three minutes.

Here then it becomes apparent that special care is required in the selection of clothes, which can exercise a strong influence, either for good or evil, on the performance of the skin functions, and here we find that wool, which is the natural clothing of man as of the lower animals—a statement to which I shall recur hereafter—provides for our necessities.

Wool allows that free transpiration which is one of the vital conditions of health, permitting the foul exhalations of the skin to pass freely away through it, and absorbing any excess of moisture. Vegetable fibre, however, is very little pervious to these exhalations; it absorbs until it is wet, and then leaves much unabsorbed moisture on the surface, chilling it, and checking the further action of the glands; whereas flannel will, even after a violent perspiration, rest on a skin it has nearly dried, and be only damp itself.

Thus, after violent exercise, a cotton or linen garment next the skin hangs against it damp and clammy, and is a frequent source of colds; so that for such violent exercise as cricket, boating, or tennis, flannel next the skin, and that garment rightly called the "sweater," has been wisely adopted by the male sex.

Silk worn next the skin is warmer and slightly more absorbent than vegetable fibre; but that it does not allow the noxious exhalations to pass freely is proved by the unpleasant smell it soon acquires.

Before quitting this branch of my subject it may be interesting to refer to the colour of the skin or complexion, which is partly dependent on the constitution of the skin itself, partly on the state of the vital functions. Thus the bronze tint of the Hindoo, the black skin of the negro, and the hue of the brunette are caused by the number of pigment cells deposited in the true skin itself. In very fair people these pigment cells are absent. On the other hand, when the skin of the face and hands becomes coarse and red by exposure to rough weather, it is because the small blood-vessels which supply the surface of the parts have become enlarged by abnormal excitement and irritation. The colour of the blood is dimly seen through the semi-transparent outer skin. Thus, when an outdoor life is led, the complexion is fresh and rosy; but when an indoor and sedentary life is persevered in, the lungs work slowly, the blood is not supplied with sufficient oxygen, the pulse beats feebly, and the complexion is pale.

When the action of the lungs is seriously impeded, as in the case of lung diseases, the skin becomes colourless and waxy, and the vessels near the surface, especially those round the eyes, show a blue tinge, due to insufficient oxygenation of the blood.

When the functions of the liver are disordered, the constituents of the bile remaining in the blood, tinge the skin with a yellow hue.1[1]

I have said that the particles of the epidermis are constantly falling off and being renewed, and the daily bath increases the beauty of the complexion by encouraging this process. When we admire the bloom of youth we are looking upon the freshly formed semi-transparent cuticle which permits us to see the tint of the healthy circulation. An appreciation of this fact will lead us to realize that the application of pigments, dyes, or enamels to the face with the hope of restoring the hue of youth and health is about as delusive as the famous instance of "painting the lily." As we grow older the removal of the epidermis is less active, and with more sedentary habits and less outdoor exercise the circulation of the blood is less effective than formerly. Hence ladies are said "to lose their complexion." Again, when the dimi- nished faculties of nutrition have caused the embonpoint of middle age to fall away, the skin, which when extended does not again readily contract, is left to crease and wrinkle like that of a shrivelled apple.

It is when, by unhealthy ways of life, women fall into this condition before their time, or when the fulness of years has in no way diminished ingrained vanity, that they fall into the hands of quacks and professed "beautifiers." Some years ago an ingenious artiste, who called herself "Arabian perfumer to the Courts of Europe," advertised that she could make such ladies as would avail themselves of her discovery "beautiful for ever." Whatever inroads time had made upon their attractions, this was to be done, and it was to be done by a process of enamelling.

Many elderly ladies resorted to the "jolie parfumeuse," and submitted to have the enamel laid on in successive washes, holding their faces over a charcoal brazier during the process.

Need I say that the longed-for end was not secured? Those who have read the preceding pages can readily understand that such a result could not possibly be obtained by the means resorted to, which were so injurious that I believe the proceedings ended in a criminal prosecution.

Those who wish for beauty, or to retain beauty, must live healthy and regular lives, cultivate cleanliness, take outdoor exercise, sleep a proper number of hours, but not too long—eight hours is about the proper time for an average adult, and above all, not eat too much. We see now and then a beautiful old lady or gentleman with smooth pink cheeks, good teeth, and silvery white hair. In their winter beauty they are to my mind as attractive as those others in the bloom of youth of whom I spoke just now. Why are they so? Because they have lived good, pure, and healthy lives. Unless they had done so they would have resembled the repulsive figures of old persons which are unfortunately in the great majority in everybody's experience.

  1. 1 As to the influence of tight-lacing on the complexion, see Chapter x., p. 157.