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You are here:Home > Health Topics > * Human Anatomy: the Skin

A person's skin is the most visible part of his or her body. Healthy skin is often seen as a sign of one's good health, as illness often affects how it feels and appears. Additionally, skin that is well cared for can also help prevent disease and other problems associated with poor hygiene. The appearance and cleanliness of one's skin also can affect how a person is perceived by others in terms of their hygiene and even their social status. It is affected by conditions other than hygiene and health, however, including the elements and age. For these reasons and more, it is important that people understand how to care for their skin. The best way to accomplish this is to learn about the skin beyond what is clearly visible.

The Body's Largest Organ

Skin is a part of the body's integumentary system. Although people don't often consider it as such, the skin is considered an organ. On average, it weighs approximately eight pounds and covers 22 square feet. Human skin constantly grows new cells and sheds old ones. In fact, once every 35 days, the skin renews itself, which means the skin replaces itself approximately 10 times a year.

Learning the Layers

The epidermis, dermis, and subcutis are the three layers that make up the skin. Within these layers, there are cells, blood vessels, sweat glands, nerves, and hair follicles. The topmost of these layers is also the thinnest and is called the epidermis. It falls beneath the outer layer of dead skin, called the stratum corneum. The epidermis, although thin, consists of various different cells. These cells include keratinocytes, which produce keratin, melanocytes, which produce melanin, and langerhans cells. The job of the langerhans cells is to prevent substances from entering the skin. In addition to these cells, there are also additional layers found in the epidermis. These layers are the stratum germinatium, stratum spinosum, stratum granulosum, and stratum lucidum.

The second layer, called the dermis, has a lot going on. It is in this middle layer of skin that hair follicles, oil glands, blood vessels, and sweat glands are located. This is also the layer where skin gets its elasticity and support, which comes from collagen and elastin. Additionally, the dermis is where wrinkling develops.

The lower layer of the skin is the subcutis or hypodermis, which is made up of connective tissues and fat. Nerve endings that help with sensation are also found in this layer of skin. This layer also plays a role in wrinkling and contributes to sagging of the skin. In addition to fat, the hypodermis also contains sweat glands and collagen cells. The fat in this layer is what helps to keep body heat regulated and provides needed protection for internal organs.

Skin Functions

Skin serves several purposes beyond the obvious. One of the most important functions of the skin is to protect the body. It does this by preventing dehydration by holding in bodily fluids. It also provides protection against bacteria, heat and cold, and chemicals. Melanin found in the skin provides a natural defense against ultraviolet radiation. Body temperature is regulated by the skin, which also produces vitamin D when out in the sun. One's ability to feel sensations such as heat, pain, and cold are also courtesy of the skin.

Keeping it Healthy

When it comes to having healthy skin, the most important aspect is caring for it properly. This is a matter of following a few important rules, such as eating healthy, drinking plenty of water daily, protecting the skin from the sun, and keeping the skin clean. To protect one's skin from ultraviolet rays from the sun, it is important to use sunscreen with an SPF of no less than 15 and to wear protective clothing that covers the skin, including a hat; avoid being out in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., or if that is unavoidable, stay within the shade as much as possible. When cleaning the skin, people should avoid harsh soaps, lengthy showers and baths, and water that is overly hot. The skin benefits best from a diet that consists of lean protein, vegetables, and fruits, including those that are high in vitamin C. Avoiding unhealthy fats and processed/refined carbohydrates will also, according to researchers, help skin to remain healthy and youthful. Additionally, smoking also affects the skin, contributing to deep wrinkles, depriving the skin of nutrients, and damaging its elastin and collagen. Emotionally, stress can cause problems such as acne breakouts, skin rashes, and other skin problems.

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