Skin 101: The Epidermis, Melanin, and More

What’s the largest organ in your body? Most people incorrectly believe that it’s either the liver or the lungs. Believe it or not, your skin is actually the largest organ in your body in both size and weight. The skin of an average adult covers an area of 20 to 22 square feet and weighs 8 to 10 pounds!

Covering your body and your vital organs isn’t the only vital function this miraculous organ serves for your health and well being however.  We’ve provided an outline below describing how your skin works, all of its primary parts, features and functions and why your skin’s proper care and upkeep is so critically important to your overall health.

How Deep is “Skin-Deep”?

Skin 101: The Epidermis, Melanin, and More

Skin has evolved in humans as a means to protect and regulate the human body.  It’s comprised of two distinct layers, each of which serves a specific purpose.

  • Epidermis – the epidermis is the outer layer of skin that provides overall protection. New cells are constantly being created in the base of the epidermis and make their way up to the top, replacing the top layer of dead cells. Your entire epidermis regenerates approximately every 28 days.
  • Dermis – the dermis lies directly below the epidermis and is where much of your skin’s functional activity occurs. The dermis is home to sweat and sebaceous glands, blood and lymph vessels, as well as nerves and hair follicles.

Remarkably, the total thickness of your skin is only about two millimeters, less than one-tenth of an inch. The hypodermis, which is the subcutaneous layer underneath the dermis, is not technically a part of the skin, but consists of fat and connective tissue joining the skin and muscular tissue.

Melanin and Skin Color

Located at the deepest part of the epidermis, melanocytes are the cells that manufacture melanin. Both light and dark complexioned people have melanin.  These natural pigments determine skin color, along with eye and hair color, which is controlled by at least 6 genes.

Melanin dissipates more than 99.9 percent of absorbed UV rays, giving it natural sunscreen properties. Exposure to UV rays triggers melanin production in a process called melanogenesis, and the increased levels result in skin turning darker.  While all people have approximately the same number of melanocytes, individual melanogenesis levels are dependent upon your genetic profile.

Oil Glands and Hair Follicles

Your entire body, except for the soles of your feet and palms of your hands, is covered with hair of varying textures and thicknesses. Hair grows within the follicles that reside in the dermis. As cell division and growth occurs in the bulb at the base of the follicle, the dead cells are transformed into a protein called keratin, which makes up the hair.

Sebaceous glands are connected to hair follicles. They produce sebum, an oily substance that lubricates the hair as it grows and also works to keep your skin smooth and moisturized. Hormones control the production rate of the sebaceous glands, which is why adolescence or pregnancy can send the glands into overdrive.

The whole process can be disrupted if dirt, dead cells and other debris become trapped in the sebum. As a result, the pore becomes clogged and swollen, resulting in a pimple and, quite possibly, the start of an acne breakout.

How Sweat Glands Regulate Body Temperature

Perspiration might feel like a nuisance sometimes, but it serves a very practical function – keeping your body from reaching dangerously high temperatures. Sweat glands are coiled, hollow tubes connected to pores through a long duct. A certain amount of sweat, which is made up of water, sodium, chloride and potassium, is present on your skin at all times. Perspiration and sebum combine to create a thin protective film with moisturizing properties for your skin’s benefit.

When your body’s internal temperature rises, due to hot weather or physical activity, the sympathetic nervous system sends a message to the sweat glands to secrete sweat. As sweat rises from the pores and sits on the surface of the skin, it evaporates as it absorbs energy to cool down the body.

Effects of Aging on Skin

Collagen is a fibrous substance that forms one-third of the proteins found in the body. The dermis holds a network of connective tissue made of collagen, which keeps the skin firm and supple. Production of collagen begins decreasing around the age of 40 and drops off considerably after menopause in women, leading to increasingly sagging skin and the development of wrinkles.

Beauty is undoubtedly more than skin deep, because simply put, there are more moving parts to your skin than most people are aware of.  Your skin serves an incredibly important function of protecting and regulating your body and making its care and protection a top priority should be a primary concern for EVERYONE. If you take care of your skin, it will take care of you.

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