Human skin may look simple but it is actually made up of several different layers, each of which serves its own purpose. The three skin layers are the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis or subcutaneous fat. Each of these layers combines to form what is the largest organ in, or in this case on, the human body. It might be easy to assume that skin is actually tissue, but in fact it is an organ, and an extremely vital organ at that.
Breaking the skin down into its various layers gives us a better idea of exactly what the skin does. The top layer, the one that we can actually see, is the epidermis. The epidermis can range in color and thickness. Skin tends to be thinner in certain areas of the body, such as the eyelids, and thickest in areas that take the most abuse, including the soles of the feet. The epidermis produces a substance called melanin which is what gives the skin its color. The more melanin you have, the darker your skin will be.
Since it is directly exposed to the elements, the epidermis is, not surprisingly, your body’s first and most important defense mechanism. It basically acts as a shield to keep toxins and other harmful substances out of your body. New skin cells are created at the bottom of the epidermis and they travel upward toward the outermost layer until they eventually flake off. This is an important cycle as it allows the skin to continually grow and remain strong.
Just beneath the epidermis is the dermis. This is a deep layer of skin and a lot of important things happen here. The dermis contains sweat glands which are connected to little holes on the surface of the skin called pores. As sweat is expelled out of the pores, it washes all of the unwanted stuff from your body. Another set of glands, the sebaceous glands, produce oil which helps to naturally keep your skin soft, smooth and waterproof. If too much oil is produced, you have acne.
The dermis also contains nerve endings which send signals to your brain that allow you to feel if something is hot or cold, cause you to itch and to feel pain and allow you to feel vibrations and touch. This is also the layer of skin that houses the roots of your hair. From here, hair grows up through openings in the epidermis. The roots themselves are attached to tiny muscles, which contract when you are cold or frightened to give you the sensation of goosebumps.
The bottom most layer of skin is the subcutaneous fat. This acts much like the insulation in your house, helping to keep the body temperature regulated so that you don’t overheat or freeze. This protective layer of fat also helps to guard the more sensitive organs and other bodily systems, preventing them from being injured.
Along with protecting you, the subcutaneous fat also contains a special layer of connective tissue that attaches the upper layers of skin to your muscles and bones. It also serves as a conduit for the blood vessels that start in the dermis, allowing them to connect with the rest of your circulatory system so that blood can properly reach all areas of your body.
As you can see, there is a lot more to your skin than what is on the surface. It is actually a very complex and fascinating organ that provides some very important services for the rest of the body. For this reason, it is extremely important that you take good care of your skin throughout your life. The better you are to your skin, the better it will be able to do its job and the healthier you’ll be!