The anatomy of the skin

Most of us know the basics when it comes to human anatomy; but how many people are aware of the anatomy of the skin? Here’s a breakdown of our largest organ and what you can do to take the best care of it.

Today’s focus is one of the most obvious parts of the body and the largest organ we possess – the skin. It is the first thing we notice about ourselves, and others, as it is the only visible organ we have, but it is probably the one we know least about anatomically and physiologically. We know basically how our kidneys, liver and heart function but do we know how our skin works? I, for one, know that I cleanse, moisturise and care for it, but I’m not sure I really know why or what I am actually doing to my skin in the process. There are layers to the skin that I am quite unaware of, so in this blog I want to delve a little deeper and discover the inner workings of this vital human organ.

The Anatomy of the Skin

Our skin is made up of three layers; the epidermis (the top layer that is visible to us) which is a tough protective layer that contains melanin-producing melanocytes, followed by the dermis which sits just below the epidermis, and the subcutaneous layer which lies beneath the two. Within the skin there are sweat glands which exist predominantly within the dermis but release sweat out of the body through the epidermis. The are also nerves which pass from the body through the subcutaneous layer and end in the dermis just below the epidermis. The hair follicles begin at the base of the dermis and protrude hairs above the surface of the epidermis. Blood vessels run through the skin at the dermis level. The subcutaneous layer is a fatty layer of tissue is also known as the hypodermis.

The skin contains a wide range of cells, glands and other structures; basket cells, blood vessels, hair erector muscle, hair follicle, hair shaft, langerhans cells, melanocytes, merkel cells, pacinian corpuscle, sebaceous gland, sensory nerves, stratum corneum and sweat glands. All these serve to allow the skin to work; for example, to sense when we are cold and erect our hairs and goose bumps, to expand the pores to create and release sweat when we are hot and perspiring, to supply nutrients and remove waste from the skin, to sense nerve health, to protect against intruders or potential infection of the skin, to respond to pressure and vibration, to transmit the feeling of heat and pain, and more.

The skin forms a protective barrier covering the entirety of our body, its job being to prevent pathogens from entering our blood stream and protecting us from injury and the environment. The skin is around 2mm thick, covers approx. 2 square metres, and weighs around 3kg.  As well as being our coat of armour if you like, the skin also serves to regulate our temperature (think sweating, goose bumps, etc.) collects information regarding our environment using its sensory skills and reserves water, fat and vitamin D. It’s not just these incredible services that are rendered – the skin also helps our immune system in the protection of disease. We literally could not live without it!

From this brief outline you can see just how complex and essential the skin is to our wellbeing and overall health. To take care of it the best we can is imperative – it is our first line of defence from the outside world, so we ought to do our best to allow it do its job effectively.

Waste

The skin is a passageway by which we can release waste such as chemicals, and toxins from the body through our pores. If our pores are blocked, or clogged with dirt, that waste will have a tough job of getting out and so prevents the skin from functioning effectively. Maintaining good hygiene and keeping our skin clean and exfoliated will prevent prove blockage and allow nasty toxins to be released. The epidermis also sheds in order to release said toxins, this is also aided by good hygiene.

Vitamin D

The body needs vitamin D and the best way to retrieve it is directly from the sun’s rays. The skin provides the mechanisms to pass the essential vitamin through to the body. All we need to do is to expose the naked skin to the sun and allow the process to take place. Ten minutes per day of sunscreen or any protection-free rays and you’re good to go.

Anti-bacterial

Our skin is an intelligent organ designed to protect and prevent. It has all the necessary tools by which to achieve this, one of them being the natural bacteria containing oils which we need to fight off disease. Removing these natural oils will prevent the body from being able to do its job – chemical soaps and skin care products being one of the worst things we can do for our skin as they can destroy our natural defences.

So the best ways to take care of our skin are to keep things natural and gentle.

Cleanse

Cleanse the skin thoroughly to make sure you have removed the day from your epidermis; whether that is make up, or general dirt, it needs to come off to allow the skin to do its job. Use a gentle natural cleanser or simply a non-abrasive, non-chemical, preferably fragrance-free soap and water.

Eat well

Good nutrition will shine through all the way to the outer layer of the skin as well as aid it in its mission to protect you from the outside and in.

Hydrate

A hydrated body equals hydrated skin. Drink plenty of water and if you still suffer from dry skin use a moisturiser that contains only natural oils and products.

Sunscreen

Always wear sunscreen. A good quality, high UVA and UVB protective sunscreen of 30 SPF or higher.

Keep watch over your skin, remain alert to changes in skin colour, patches, or moles which darken, grow or alter over time. See a skin specialist / dermatologist if symptoms persist. This is an incredible organ that is vital to our health – let’s make sure we don’t take it for granted!

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