In order to best care for our skin, I believe it’s important to understand it.
Our skin (the integumentary system) is the human body’s largest organ. It is the protector of our other organs, regulating our body temperature and allowing for excretion, secretion, absorption and sense of touch. It is made up of layers, cells, nerves, follicles and glands that work harmoniously to protect us. The thickest skin is on the soles of our feet and palms of our hands; the thinnest is on our eyelids. And each inch contains approximately fifteen feet of blood vessels, twelve feet of nerves, 650 sweat glands, 100 oil glands, 65 hairs and 1,300 nerve endings! Essentially, our skin is the window into our internal physical selves, and it is quite fascinating.
Skin is comprised of two parts: the epidermis and the dermis. The epidermis is the outermost layer, which is very thin and houses many nerve endings. Its five layers are:
1. Stratum Germinative or the basal layer, where cells are born.
2. Stratum Spinosum, where cell appendages become desmosomes, the structure that holds cells together.
3. Stratum Granulosum, composed of granule like cells, filled with keratin and intercellular lipids. (Lipids protect our cells from water loss and provide hydration.)
4. Stratum Lucidum, the thickest part of our skin, made up small cells that allow light to pass through.
5. Stratum Corneum, the top, outermost layer of skin, primarily composed of keratinocytes. (Keratin is a fiber protein that provides resiliency and protection and is found in every layer of the epidermis. Soft keratin is found in our skin, and hard keratin is found in our hair and nails. The dead keratinocytes shed on a daily basis and are replaced by new cells, and that’s what we exfoliate so our skin can breathe optimally and we can get that healthy glow!)
The dermis is the live layer of connective tissue that contains lymph nodes and blood vessels (fluids that nourish skin), sweat (sudoriferous) glands, oil (sebaceous) glands, nerves, hair follicles and the arrector pili muscles (or goose bumps). It is made up of two layers: papillary (which connects the epidermis to the dermis) and the reticular (which contain collagen and elastin to give skin its strength and firmness.) The breakdown of collagen and elastin as we age is the primary cause of wrinkles.
And though our skin may be more or less strong in certain areas, it is sensitive over all and takes quite a beating. It is exposed to the elements and is susceptible to cuts, bruises and infections and, therefore, needs us to protect it. Take care of the skin you are in and it will take care of you.