The Art of Living in Australia, by Philip E. Muskett

Chapter III.

Ablution — The Skin and the Bath.

It has been estimated that the external skin of an ordinary adult is equal to an area of about twelve square feet, and that in a tall man it may be as much as eighteen square feet. There is a considerable difference between twelve square feet and twelve feet square, and it is well to mention the fact in order that there may be no confusion. From this large surface alone, therefore, it is quite easy to see that the skin requires to have some attention paid to it. But it is really far more important than even its extensive surface would be likely to indicate, for it fulfils no less than seven different duties. In the first place it serves as an external covering to the body, and, as we shall see also, the internal skin acts as a support to the internal organs. Secondly, it is endowed with an extensive system of nerves, which give rise to the sensations of touch, of temperature, of pressure, and of pain. In this way we can tell whether a substance is rough or smooth, and whether it is hot or cold; we recognise, moreover, the difference between a gentle pressure of the hand and one so forcible as to cause pain. Thirdly, the skin, as we shall find farther on, contains thousands of small tubes for the purposes of perspiration, and besides this, there are other tubes secreting, an oily substance. Fourthly, the skin plays an important part in regulating the temperature of the body. Thus in a warm atmosphere the skin becomes reddened and moist, and much heat is lost; on the other hand, when the air is colder the skin becomes pale, cool, and dry, thus conserving the body heat. Fifthly, the respiratory action of the skin must not be forgotten, although it is nothing like so great as that of the lungs. Nevertheless quite an appreciable amount of oxygen is absorbed through the skin, and beyond all question carbonic acid is exhaled from it. Sixthly, it is an absorbent; that is to say, the skin is capable of absorbing into the body certain substances applied to it. In this way remedies are often introduced into the system by what is known as inunction. And lastly, the skin is a great emunctory, and carries off waste matters from the body. Accordingly it acts as a purifier of the blood, in which it assists the kidneys, intestines, and the lungs. And more than this, it often happens that the turning point in any disease is announced by a sudden, profuse, and markedly offensive perspiration, as if a considerable amount of deleterious and noxious matter has suddenly expelled from the system.

From the foregoing it is evident that the skin has many varied and important duties to perform. As we might expect, moreover, an organ with such functions is of complicated structure. Its component parts, therefore, deserve to have some little attention paid to them, since the importance of the skin from a health point of view will then be all the more appreciated. The skin is most conveniently considered under three divisions — the skin itself; the glands, producing perspiration, oil, and hair, which are found within it; and the appendages belonging to it, the hair and the nails. The skin itself may be described as the soft and elastic tissue which invests the whole of the surface of the body, and consists of two layers, the outer or scarf skin, and the deeper or true skin. The interior of the body is likewise lined with a covering, which is termed mucous membrane, from the fact that from its surface, or from certain special glands within it, or from both, there is constantly being secreted a thin semi-transparent fluid called mucus. At the various openings of the body, as the mouth, the nostrils, and other parts, the external and internal skins are continuous with one another. Indeed, at these apertures the mucous membrane, or internal skin, takes leave of absence from the world to line the cavities within the body. So that, as Professor Huxley expresses it, “every part of the body might be said to be contained within the walls of a double bag, formed by the skin which invests the outside of the body, and the mucous membrane, its continuation, which lines the internal cavities.”

The use of the scarf skin is manifestly to protect the more delicate true skin, while at the same time it allows the waste products and used-up material to escape from the body. In the substance of the true skin are thousands of minute little bodies called papillae, which are specially concerned in the sense of touch, for the vast majority of these papillae contain the end of a small nerve. The numberless fine ridges seen on the palmar surface of the hands and fingers, and on the soles of the feet, are really rows of these papillae, covered of course by the layers of the outer skin. The supply of blood to the skin is also very plenteous, each of its innumerable papillae being abundantly supplied in this respect. As a proof of the amount of blood circulating within the skin, and of its extensive nerve supply, it is only necessary to mention the fact that the finest needle cannot be passed into it without drawing blood and inflicting-pain. In addition to the foregoing the skin also contains a countless number of very fine tubes, which penetrate through its layers and open on its surfaces by minute openings called pores. There are altogether three different varieties of these tubes distributed throughout the skin, namely, those intended for perspiration; secondly, those which lead from the oil glands; and lastly, those which enclose each hair of the body. The first of these, which carry away the perspiration from the body, are very fine, the end away from the surface being coiled up in such a way as to form a ball or oval-shaped body, constituting the perspiration gland. The tube itself is also twisted like a corkscrew, and widens at its mouth. It is estimated that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 of these perspiration tubes in every square inch of the skin. Now, as we have already seen, the external skin of an ordinary adult is equal to an area of about twelve square feet, and in a tall person it may be as much as eighteen square feet. The number of these tubes, therefore, in the whole body will be many hundreds of thousands, so that it will readily be seen how exceedingly important it is that they should be kept in thorough working order by cleanliness. The two great purposes fulfilled by the perspiration are the removal by its means of worn-out or effete material which is injurious to the system, and the regulation of the heat of the body by its influence. When it is stopped by any reason, such as catarrh or disease, the skin fails in its work, and the noxious matters, instead of being expelled from the body, are thrown back into the system. Hence there is a good deal of truth in the belief that a freely acting skin is always a safeguard against disease.

The second variety of tubes, those which furnish an oily-like fluid to the skin, resemble in-great part those which serve for the office of perspiration. At the extremity away from the surface of the body, each one has a gland, the oil gland, which secretes the oily material. The pores or outlets which open on the skin, however, are a good deal larger than the similar orifices of the perspiratory tubes, but they are not distributed so equally throughout the body. In certain parts of the skin they are especially numerous, as on the nose, head, ears, and back of the shoulders. The unctuous matter which is secreted by these oil glands is intended to keep the skin moist and pliant, to prevent the too rapid evaporation of moisture from the surface, and to act as a lubricant where the folds of the skin are in contact with each other. At times in these oil tubes the contents extend to the opening on its surface; the part in contact with the air then becomes darkened, and forms the little black spots so frequently seen on the face of some persons. The white, greasy matter which is thus contained within the tubes can often be squeezed out with the fingers or a watch key, and on account of its shape and black end is popularly supposed to be a grub or maggot.

The tube into which each hair of the body is inserted differs materially from the two preceding, in that its function is more restricted. It serves to form a sort of sheath which contains each hair, and is called the hair follicle. Usually one of the last described ducts opens directly on the side of the hair follicle, and its secretion serves the purpose of keeping the hair pliant. It will be more convenient, however, to enter into a fuller description of the hair and hair follicle when be come to speak of the hair, the nails, and the teeth.

Having thus gained some knowledge of the structure of the skin, and of its delicate formation, it will be the more readily understood why strict attention to the bath is necessary to produce a healthy frame. There is a continual new growth of scarf skin going on, and there are likewise the secretions from the perspiration ducts and oil tubes being poured forth. The outer skin which has served its purpose is being incessantly cast off in the — form of whitish looking powder, but instead of being thrown clear from the body it clings to it and becomes entangled with the perspiration and oily material, thus forming an impediment to the free action of the skin. If the pores of the latter be obstructed and occluded in this manner, the impurities which should be removed from the system cannot escape, and have therefore to be expelled by some other channel. Hence the work of removing this impure and deleterious material is thrown upon the liver, bowels, or kidneys, and often results in their disease. In our warm climate, where the skin acts more freely than it does in colder latitudes, the use of the bath is certainly indispensable, if the health of the body is to be maintained at all.

The cold bath, at any rate during the summer months, should always be there before breakfast, but in the cooler part of the year the shock may be lessened, if it be desirable, by using tepid water instead of cold. And since there is, as we have seen, a good deal of oily matter excreted by the skin, it becomes necessary to use something in addition to water for cleansing purposes, for the latter is unable to displace the greasy collection by itself. The only thing which will render it easy of removal is soap, as by its action it softens the oily material and dislodges it from the skin. Soap has acquired an evil reputation which it certainly does not deserve, and if it disagrees it is either due to the fact of its being an inferior article, or else the skin itself must be at fault. The best soap to use is the white, not the mottled, Castile, as it is made from pure olive oil. By the proper and judicious use of soap the skin is kept soft and natural, and the complexion is maintained in the hue of health.

Even in the matter of washing the face, there is a right way and a wrong way of doing it. The basin should be moderately filled with water and the face dipped into it, and then the hands. The latter are to be next well lathered with soap, and gently rubbed all over the face, following into the different depressions, such as the inner corners of the eyes and behind the ears. It is quite a mistake, however, to apply the lather to the inside of the ears, as it seems to favour the formation of wax; the different depressions and canal of the ears can be very well cleaned by means of the finger tips moistened with water. The face is then to be dipped into the water a second time and thoroughly rinsed, but it is better to pour away the soapy water for the rinsing. Many people apply the soap to the face by means of a sponge or bit of flannel, and do not wash the soap thoroughly off with fresh water before drying with a towel. The hands unquestionably make the softest and most delicate means of bringing the lather completely into contact with the surface of the skin and, besides this, the amount of pressure to be applied can also be regulated to a nicety. The face and neck should always be carefully and thoroughly dried by means of a suitable towel. But for the ears something of a softer material, such as a clean handkerchief, is more convenient in following out the various hollows and the canal itself.

Many houses, and fairly sized houses too, are destitute of a bath, and if there is no room for the erection of one, or if the means for having it built are not forthcoming, it becomes necessary to see what cheap and efficient substitute can be made. A sponge bath, or large tub, with a bucket of water and a good-sized sponge, can readily be obtained, even in the most humble dwelling, and answers as well as can be wished. When the body is simply sponged over with tepid water it makes one of the mildest baths that can be taken; but those who are in ordinary health can well lather them selves over with soap and cold water, and then wash it off with some squeezes of the sponge copiously wetted with the water.

Next in order to the sponge bath comes the plunge bath, and with either of them the face should always be washed first, in the manner previously directed, so as to prevent a rush of blood to the head. In taking a bath, whether it be the sponge or the plunge bath, plenty of water should always be dashed over the front of the chest, for it makes one hardier and less susceptible to the effects of cold. In fact, besides acting as a preventive to attacks of common cold, it really strengthens the lungs, and renders the body more capable of resisting disease. If in addition a little cold water is habitually sniffed up the nostrils at the time of taking the bath it will have many a cold in the head. After coming out of the bath the towels should always be used to thoroughly dry the body, and it is certainly better to have two for the purpose. The two towels should be sufficiently large in size, at least five feet in length and of ample width; anything smaller is altogether useless. One of them should be of some soft absorbing material so as to thoroughly dry the body, while the other should be rougher, to use with friction to the skin. In fact, this rubbing down with the rougher towel is in some respects the most important part of the bath, and there should always be enough friction to get the skin into a glow. If there is not this feeling of reaction, but a decided chilliness, it is a sure sign that the bath is not agreeing, and one with tepid water must be substituted, or else it will have to be stopped altogether for a time.

But although there may be a certain proportion of people whom the cold bath does not benefit, yet I am fully convinced that the number is comparatively speaking small. A good many make the excuse that they cannot take it, while all the time laziness is the real trouble. Once the advantages derived from the cold bath are experienced, all the objections raised vanish into thin air. Not only is there that feeling of exhilaration which abides with those who habitually employ it, but it is to be remembered that its greatest value consists in the immunity which it confers against diseases of the catarrhal type. The effect of the cold bath is to give tone to the whole system, and to brace up the body. But it does more than this; by maintaining the functional activity of the skin, the liability to catch cold is greatly lessened. There are many explanations given of the phenomena which occur in “taking cold.” They are believed, however, to arise from a disturbance of the heat-producing forces of the body. As it has been already pointed out, the skin is the great temperature-regulator of the body. Accordingly this latter all-important duty is best promoted by keeping the functional activity of the skin in full swing. The prevention of catarrh means, therefore, a healthy action of the skin, and for this nothing is so good as the daily cold bath. The praises of the latter are well sung in the following extract: “Those who desire to pass the short time of life in good health ought often to use cold bathing, for I call scarce express in words how much benefit may be had by cold baths; for they who use them, although almost spent with old age, have a strong and compact pulse and a florid colour in their face, they are very active and strong, their appetite and digestion are vigorous, their senses are perfect and exact, and, in one word, they have all their natural actions well performed.”

The beneficial effects which follow the daily cold bath have been thus dwelt upon because I believe that in Australia the greatest good to the greatest number would follow its use. At the same time, however, it is necessary to remember that there are some persons, and some even apparently robust persons, who can never take them. Such baths, also, are injurious to those who are pale and bloodless, or those who suffer from a tendency to congestion of the internal organs — excepting under medical advice. And, in addition, it must also be remembered that warm baths have claims for consideration from a cleansing point of view, and a few words upon them in this respect will not be thrown away. Now, the daily use of the cold bath, together with the assiduous application of soap, may be sufficient to keep the skin cleansed from impurities. Yet as a matter of fact this will the more certainly be ensured by a weekly — or, better still, bi-weekly — warm cleansing bath. The best time to take it is before bedtime, so that there is no risk of taking a chill afterwards. After the body has been well lathered over with soap, and this has been thoroughly washed off, the cleansing process may be then considered as completed. It is next recommended that two handsful of common salt should be added to the warm water, and the body steeped therein for a minute or two. The particles of salt pass into the skin so firmly that they cannot be removed even by the most vigorous rubbing. In this way the functions of the skin are stimulated to a considerable degree; the process of nutrition throughout the body greatly promoted; and the liver roused to action. From this it is easy to understand why hot sea-water baths are so beneficial.

There is another effect of the warm bath which deserves to be well remembered, for it has an historical association. It is related of the great Napoleon, that after a day’s fighting, instead of indulging in a night’s rest, he would take a warm bath. It was so efficacious that he was enabled to begin his exertions almost immediately. The explanation of this lies in the fact that when the mascles are tired out and the vigour of the body diminished, the hot bath rouses the circulation and renews the worn-out tissues. In the same way, after a night’s dancing, twenty minutes or so in a warm bath, and a couple of hours’ sleep, will be almost as good as a whole night’s rest. In addition to the foregoing, however, it must not be forgotten that the warm bath, or to speak more correctly the hot bath, is a true medicinal agent. It is used in many cases of disease, especially those in which the skin is inactive. A feverish cold is often nipped in the bud by a hot bath at bedtime; a free perspiration usually follows, and thus relief is obtained. In some forms of rheumatism and gout, too, the hot bath is of signal benefit. There are many cases of a spasmodic nature, also, in which it is of great value. At the same time it must be borne in mind that the hot bath, when used to an excess, tends to induce a debilitated condition.

The Hair.

The loss of hair is so frequent in Australia, at least amongst the male population, that it requires a little consideration; and apart altogether from this, the whole subject is one of extreme interest, so that some reference to the actual structure of the hair and the hair-follicles is called for. The roots of the hair are formed in the hair-follicles, which may be described as little pear-shaped bags, formed either in the true skin or in the cellular tissue beneath it. Each hair-follicle, hair-sac, or hair-pit, as it is variously termed, bulges out at its deeper part, contracting to a long narrow neck as it passes to its skin. Near the surface of the latter the follicle widens out again, and it is from this part that the hair emerges. As it has been previously mentioned, a duct from one of the oil glands usually opens into each follicle. At its very bottom, also, is the papillae or little mound-like elevation. This protrudes into the follicle, and from it the hair is formed.

The blood supply for the hair is very abundant. There is a complete system of blood vessels encircling every one of the follicles, and besides this each papilla has a special distribution of blood to itself. That part of the hair lying within the hair-follicle is called the root. The lower end of the root, which swells out into a knob, named the bulb, is concave in shape underneath, so as to fit on top of the projecting papilla. The shaft is the long stem of the hair, while its extreme end is termed the point.

By the aid of the microscope it may be seen that the hair itself on the outside is covered by a layer of scales — the cuticle — overlapping one another like the tiles on the roof of a house. Beneath the cuticle is the fibrous part, consisting of many cells closely packed together. In many instances the fibrous part takes up the whole interior, but in the centre of the coarser hair there is the medulla or pith, composed of very minute cells. From this it follows that the hair is not a narrow tube, as is commonly supposed. This mistake has arisen from the fact that, when viewed transversely, the colour of the central and outer part of the hair is different.

Having in this way become acquainted with the actual structure of the hair and of the hair-follicles, it will be desirable to consider somewhat briefly the management of the former. We have already seen that the skin requires a good deal of attention in order to ensure the perfection of bodily health. And although the hair does not fulfil such an important function, yet, on the other hand, it must not be neglected. Even on the score of appearance alone, it has much claim for attention. Many people would be vastly improved in this way were they only to visit their hairdresser more frequently. It is very unsightly, to say the least of it, to see the hair straggling all over the back and sides of the neck, and the beard (if a beard be worn) with a wild, untidy look. Besides this, in our semi-tropical climate, a little more care in this respect would be certainly conducive to coolness and comfort.

But in addition to these considerations, there is another very cogent reason why the hair should be more often attended to; and it is the fact that if it be kept of an ordinary length, somewhat frequent cutting promotes its growth. There is more than one reason given as an explanation of this; indeed, there are at least three. In the first place, the shorter the hair the less it is dragged on in its roots; secondly, its roots are prevented from becoming blocked at the mouth of the hair-follicles — and lastly, the weight of the hair is considerably lessened. From this it will be obvious that it is not the actual cutting of the hair in itself which is so beneficial in invigorating its growth, but that, by reason of the cutting, certain results follow which strengthen it greatly.

We have just seen that the accumulations of DEBRIS and other material at the roots of the hair are prejudicial to its growth. It must not be inferred from this, however, that incessant washing of the scalp, by removing these collections, is a good thing. Now, it is advised by some that the hair should be wetted daily at the same time the bath is taken. But as a general rule this is a mistake; only those who have a superabundance of natural oil can afford to carry out such a practice. With the great majority of people it is absolutely detrimental to the growth of the hair to wash it oftener than once a week. After washing the head, the hair should be thoroughly dried. Many attacks of neuralgia, especially in the fair sex, are due to the effect of getting into a draught while the hair is still wet.

There are several points to be borne in mind in connection with the growth and preservation of the hair. With many persons the scalp is very tender and will not tolerate vigorous brushing. In such instances the brush should always be a soft one; indeed, a hard brush cannot be recommended under any circumstances. The teeth of the comb, also, should never be so sharp as to irritate the scalp, nor should they be set too closely together. A certain amount of brushing is necessary to keep the scalp and hair in healthy action, but it must never be carried to excess. Singeing the hair is greatly believed in by a number of people, and in some cases it appears to be of benefit. Many believe that singeing seals up the cut ends of the hair, which they affirm bleed when cut. This has no foundation in fact, however, for, as it has already been explained, the hair is not a tube. A hard, unyielding covering for the head is not at all suitable; the lighter and more ventilated the head-gear the better. But, the truth is, a sensible and suitable head-covering for Australian use has yet to be devised. Thinning of the hair, and even actual baldness, are not unfrequently started by the hard rim of the hat employed. This mechanically interferes with the supply of blood to the scalp, and thus it is that the crown suffers most in this respect, since it is the more starved of blood.

As I have previously shown, the hair often suffers from want of natural oil. The investigations of Liebreich have shown that this is closely allied to lanolin, which is the purified fat of sheep’s wool. Moreover, it has been found that this lanolin is the very best substitute for the former. It is, however, too sticky to be used alone as a pomade. Accordingly, Dr. Allan Jamieson, of Edinburgh, a very high authority on diseases of the skin and hair, advises that it should be mixed with oil of sesame in the following proportions:

Oil of sesame. . . . 1 drachm.

Lanolin. . . . . . . . ..2 ounces.

This may be conveniently perfumed with a few drops of oil of bergamot, oil of orange blossom, or oil of rosemary. For the preservation of the hair, therefore, it should be trimmed short; the scalp kept clean, but not overwashed; and the hair, if naturally dry, lubricated by the foregoing pomade. These must be supplemented, also, by taking care that the head-covering is not too heating, that the rim of the hat is not too hard, and that irritation of the scalp by hard brushes and fine combs is strictly avoided.

If the thinning of the hair has progressed to a more advanced stage, other measures will have to be adopted. The most useful application which I know of to restore growth is the following. It is a formula given by Messrs. Squire, the well-known chemists of London, and has had an immense sale extending over many years.

Cantharidine (the best) 1 grain.
Acetic ether 6 drachms.

These are to be dissolved together; then add;

Rectified spirit 3 ounces.
Castor oil 1 ounce.

As with the pomade, this is best perfumed by the addition of about 20 or 30 drops of oil of bergamot, oil of lavender, oil of orange flower, or oil of rosemary, as fancy dictates. The bottle should be kept tightly corked, and a little of the preparation rubbed well into the hair-roots daily. If it create any irritation after two or three days’ use, it is best to wash the scalp with a little warm water and soap. The pomade which has been recommended may be afterwards employed for two or three days till the irritation has subsided, when the application may be renewed. A better plan still is, from the first, to use the hair restorer on one day, and the pomade on the next, alternately. This foregoing application is of course not infallible, but it will be found to do more good in a greater number of cases than any known preparation.

The Nails

From the fact that the nails are in reality appendages of the skin, they are naturally entitled to some brief consideration. Beneath the nail is the matrix, that part of the true skin from which the nail is formed. The matrix has not a perfectly smooth surface, but is arranged in 8 scries of parallel ridges with alternating grooves. The nail is of a rosy pink colour, because it is transparent enough to let the blood, circulating beneath, be seen through it. Near the root is a little crescentric-shaped white portion called the lunula. The growth of the nail takes place from below. It cannot grow backwards, since it is confined in a groove. But as the fresh cells form they gradually thrust the whole nail forward, till at last it requires paring. As a matter of fact, however, the nails really require more attention than they usually receive. The finger nails should be trimmed into a bow shape, and the corners rounded off, while the skin near the root of the nail, which tends to grow over the lunula, should be repressed into position by means of any suitable appliance. On the contrary, those of the feet should be cut squarish in shape, with a hollowed-out centre, so as to prevent the nail from ingrowing.

The Teeth

It is not my purpose to enter fully into all the details concerning the teeth, but there are one or two matters of great importance connected with them which require a few words. There are many people, beginning to get on in years, perhaps, who have had the misfortune to lose many of their teeth. The first thing that happens is an inability to masticate their food; and, before long, indigestion sets in, with all the evils attendant on its train. These unfortunates know that they have indigestion; the pain and discomfort after food tell them that. They do not know, however, that all their sufferings arise solely from their want of teeth. They begin to lose flesh, and get altogether in a bad way. But if they can be induced to apply to a competent and skilful dental surgeon, they are properly fitted with what they require, and the consequence is their sufferings almost immediately cease. They begin to enjoy their food, and before long their whole appearance is transformed into one of health. In the opinion of all dental authorities, when the natural teeth are lost, artificial substitutes unquestionably conduce to health and comfort.

It is quite deplorable to see what little interest people take in the preservation of their teeth; even those who should know better are in too many instances quite as neglectful. But the teeth play a very important part in the thorough division of food, and if this be not ensured the health is bound to suffer. They should be kept scrupulously clean, therefore, and the formation of tartar prevented.

These two objects are best accomplished by their thorough cleansing with a moderately stiff brush. Too soft a brush is insufficient for the purposes of removing the accumulations which collect upon the teeth. A tooth-powder or dentifrice of some kind will also be required. One of the simplest, and possibly also one of the very best, is composed of the following:

Powdered borax 1/2 an ounce.
Powdered orris root 1 ounce.
Powdered white Castile soap 1/4 of an ounce.
Precipitated chalk 3 ounces.
Oil of cloves 2 drops.
Oil of winter green 1/2 an ounce.

This leaves nothing to be desired, and will be found satisfactory in every respect.

It is customary to dip the tooth-brush into water, so as the better to enable it to take up the dentifrice. But it will be found an advantage if, after dipping the brush into water, it then be rubbed once or twice over a piece of white Castile soap. It will by this means pick up a larger amount of the powder. The teeth should be attended to after each meal, although cleansing them the last thing at night is an important duty, never on any account to be neglected. It must not be imagined, however, that even the foregoing is sufficient. Particles of food, which the brush fails to remove, collect between the teeth, and, if allowed to remain, ultimately lead on to decay. This is most likely to occur when the teeth are crowded close together in the jaw. But under all circumstances, whether the teeth be closely set together, or whether they be more widely apart, a piece of floss silk should be passed between them daily, so as to remove any adherent particles, and at the same time to thoroughly cleanse the sides of the teeth.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09