An introduction to skin
Your skin the largest organ in the body, sometimes measuring up to 2 square metres1 and is extremely important when it comes to protecting you against invasive pathogens. Your skin absorbs impact from bumps, regulates your body temperature and allows you to have a sense of touch, pressure and pain!
This organ is constantly evolving and changing throughout your lifetime, relying on a balance of nutrients to remain healthy. When you are young, your skin tends to be more delicate and fragile, but as you grow it strengthens and becomes denser. Men usually have thicker skin than women but as you age, your skin can become gradually weaker again as you start to lose essential proteins like collagen and elastin. It can be susceptible to damage, either from UV radiation, the elements or certain factors pertaining to your diet and lifestyle.
Skin can also function as an organ of elimination. This means that toxins and impurities can be excreted through your skin in sweat, which can cause some irritation, particularly if your skin has to take over for a sluggish or impaired liver.
Your skin is supported by a structure of cells, nerve endings and protective tissues, containing your sweat glands, hair follicles and blood vessels. It’s important that you understand the components of each layer of skin, as well as how the various cells function and interact, performing valuable tasks for your body.
The epidermis is the outermost layer of your skin and is quite durable considering how thin it is. When your epidermis is strong and healthy, it can prevent pathogens, such as bacteria and fungi, from invading and entering the body.
The outermost layer of your epidermis is your stratum corneum, which is visible to the naked eye and is technically a layer of dead skin cells composed of a hard protein called keratin. The lowest layer of your epidermis is known as the basal layer, and this is where melanin is produced, a valuable pigment that sifts UV radiation.
There are a number of important cells that inhabit your epidermis and each of them performs a valuable function.
- Keratinocytes: Keratinocytes are the cells responsible for producing keratin, an essential structural protein for your skin. Unusually, keratinocytes are able to migrate through the layers of the epidermis until they reach the stratum corneum. Once they reach this level, they are shed naturally by your body and replaced with new keratinocytes, repeating the cycle
- Melanocytes: Melanocytes are the cells that make melanin. Melanin is a dark pigment that protects your epidermis from sunlight as well as giving your skin its colour. However, if these cells are persistently exposed to UV radiation, than can become malignant and possibly cancerous.
The next layer of skin is known as the dermis. The dermis is thicker than the epidermis and is composed of collagen, a protein that makes up around 75% of your skin, and elastin, another protein that provides structure.
The dermis also contains a number of important cells and glands that keep the skin strong, hydrated and flexible. This is where your sweat glands are located, as well as your nerve endings and hair follicles, making this part of your skin more sensitive than the epidermis.
- Glands: There are two primary glands found in the dermis –sweat glands and sebaceous glands. Sebaceous glands produce sebum – an oily substance that keeps your skin waterproof and protects your epidermis against any invasive pathogens. This oil also prevents your skin from becoming dehydrated, locking in moisture and keeping the skin cells nicely hydrated. Sweat glands produce sweat, a secretion which is mainly composed of salt and water. Sweat helps to regulate your body temperature and can emit an odour when it bonds with the bacteria on your skin
- Hair follicles: These are the bits of your body responsible for growing hair. They are surrounded by a number of sensory nerves that enable you to feel when your hair is being moved. Your sebaceous oil glands open into your hair follicles, and can help to influence your hair in a similar fashion to the function they perform on your skin
- Nerve endings: Your feet and fingertips are rich in nerve endings. These are responsible for helping you perceive touch, pain, heat and pressure and can be found all over your body in the dermal layer of your skin
- Blood vessels: Your blood vessels are responsible for carrying nutrients and blood to your skin as well as taking away any waste-products. When your skin is inflamed, these vessels can dilate (widen), sometimes becoming visible beneath the surface of your skin.
The hypodermis is the fatty layer of skin under your dermis. It contains subcutaneous tissues made up of fat cells and connective tissue, protecting your organs, bones and ligaments from pathogens, bacteria and any forceful impacts.
It is also able to insulate your body against any change in temperature and can serve as a storage area for energy in times of emergency. Some medicines, such as insulin or morphine are injected directly into this layer of skin.
When we refer to skin problems, we refer to problems such as dry skin, ageing skin or oily skin. Often these issues can come about as part of a larger skin condition, such as eczema, acne or rosacea. However, sometimes different people are simply affected by a different skin type – this can be for a number of reasons – or occasionally outbursts of a particular problem can be linked to certain dietary or lifestyle factors, from your stress levels to your environment.
It’s often said that if you are suffering from a lingering internal problem, eventually it will manifest on your skin. In keeping with this idea, skin conditions are more serious than typical skin problems – in fact often skin problems like dry skin can arise as a result of a specific illness.
Conditions such as acne, eczema, rosacea or ichthyosis can be very upsetting to experience, even having an impact on your psychological health, and can arise as a result of a deeper internal issue, although sometimes they can have no discernable cause at all! On these pages we discuss the possible triggers as well as how each condition can be relieved using a variety of natural solutions, lifestyle tips and herbal remedies.
Unlike skin conditions, skin infections are usually caused by a bacterial or fungal outbreak and can be contagious. Scabies, warts and fungal infections like athlete’s foot are all technically a type of infection that can be transmitted from host to host.
Fortunately, skin infections all have recognisable causes and identifiable treatments, which are normally rooted in eliminating the source of the infection, whether it be the candida yeast, the scabies mite or a specific type of virus.